Thursday, April 30, 2009
Biodiversity is important for so many reasons, not only to benefit nature/our ecosystem, but also to add resilience to our own food systems. Having a larger variety of plants in your area provides different kinds of nectar and pollen and food to provide for more types of animals, birds and insects. Having a thriving population of insects balances the ecosystem and ensures that there are predatory insects around who will dine on your aphids and squash bugs (maybe).
Growing different varieties and kinds of fruits and vegetables makes it more likely that one variety will be suited to the weather conditions of that particular year, or will be particularly resistant to the bugs or diseases that are active that season. For instance, in one year lettuce might do very well, but spinach crashes. In another year, four out of seven varieties of tomatoes fall prey to spider mites, but three resist the infestation. In another year, only the okra survives a horrible drought.
Keep in mind that I live in an urban area - although our lot is about 1 1/2 to 2 times the size of other urban lots. We also have a lot of shade from my pecan trees in our back yard, which limits the space for our garden. Here's my list of things I'm currently growing (not necessarily harvesting yet!):
Fruits and nuts (fruit trees are semi-dwarf):
5 Blackberry (Apache, Arapaho, Navaho)
1 Persimmon (Nikita's gift)
2 Peach (JH Hale and Hale Haven)
3 Plums (Italian, Beauty, Santa Rosa)
2 Apples (Enterprise and Liberty)
Rosemary (Trailing and BBQ)
Mint (Chocolate and Peppermint)
Knock Out Roses
Flower Carpet Roses
Daylilies (5 kinds)
Salvia (2 kinds)
Bridal Wreath Spirea
Eunymous, burning bush
Crape myrtle (3 kinds)
Bean, Purple Pod
Bean, Golden Wax
Bean, Rattlesnake Pole
Bean, Old Kentucky Pole
Bean, Chinese Red Yard-Long
Tomato, 7 kinds
Pepper, 4 kinds
Sunflower, 2 kinds
Bull's Blood beets
Okra, Red Velvet
Zuchinni, 2 kinds
"Weeds" (some of which are edible):
Dwarf white clover
One aspect of biodiversity I am completely missing is animals. Right now, there's only humans, squirrels, several kinds of birds, and of course insects, living on our property. No chickens, honey bees, ducks, captive worms, rabbits, fish, etc. Nada. I think it would add a lot to our plan to have one or more of these animals here.
One of my problems is that I can't see us killing any chickens, ducks or rabbits for meat - I don't eat meat except for fish, although I don't rule it out in an unpredictable future. Animals definitely take time to care for, every day without fail. So it may be awhile before I am able to add animals to our urban home - but I'd like to do it in the next five years.
I would also like to expand my medicinal garden. Although I currently don't know how to use any of the herbs, it would be nice to have them available. I also plan to double the size of my vegetable garden - so I can have more tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cantalopes, strawberries, and squash. I believe this is the year to accomplish that goal!
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I have worked with a variety of groups over the years, many of them during college. One of my most valuable experiences was working in a class company called the "IBC" (Integrated Business Core) to create, market and sell a product to benefit a local charity. I learned a LOT about groups in that semester - group dynamics, group communication, group motivation. It's been a few (ahem) years since my college days, but the memories all that group work is starting to come back to me now. I just hope that I can put some of the lessons I've learned in the past to good use in our Transition Town OKC initiative.
One thing I've learned is that in any organization, it's not just the goals and the passion that keep us going, it's the company we keep. The people we work with invariably are either a push or a pull to participation. They can become our friends, and we will work harder to make sure everyone is happy, or they can rub us the wrong way and make us start to "forget" our meeting times. If everyone pulls their weight, and the organizors make sure that everyone has a job to do, the burden lifts off the shoulders of the few. If not, burnout and resentment become virtually inevitable.
A good leader can promote group cohesion and participation by instituting group traditions, facilitating a group identity, and making sure everyone feels included and recognized. Most people who volunteer are eager to belong to a group - it's one of the fundamental urges we have as a species. But the modern human is also touchy and egocentric and we need to feel important and loved, too.
Every time I work with our group I am happy that I am no longer a lone voice, that others are willing to share the work and lighten the load, that we share a vision. If nothing else ever came of our movement (heaven forbid!), I would be glad that I had the chance to meet these people and connect with others who are working to make a difference.
As our Transition Town OKC ball gets rolling, and we have more work to do, I'm discovering that a diverse set of skills really comes in handy while trying to manage a task of this magnitude. It also helps to have people from different backgrounds and who have different perspectives - business, government, non-profit, healthcare, religious, ethnic, gender and political viewpoints. Luckily, my Co-Chair and I don't have to have all these abilities/perspectives - the people on our Steering Committee are starting to really step up and get involved.
Here are some of the key roles we're starting to take on and some of the skills that are proving valuable:
- The Networker who knows key people and groups around town.
- The Strategist who asks key questions, thinks about the big picture, formulates a vision for the group to work toward, reminds everyone of our scope and goals, and periodically stops to evaluate the path.
- The Technical Expert who can answer peak oil/ climate change questions in detail.
- The Marketer who can present information well and advertise properly to ensure a turnout at events/speeches/presentations.
- The Project manager who knows how to pull together an event.
- "Sales" people who can meet with key players, assess their concerns and get them to buy into your vision or go along with your group's request.
- The Writer who can craft grammatically correct, brief and convincing sentences.
- The Creative type who makes websites, blogs, PowerPoint presentations, and displays.
- The Facilitator who runs meetings in an upbeat yet timely manner and who can keep an agenda and meeting notes.
- Volunteers who are willing to show up at "whatever" event to staff tables, answer questions, and who take on whatever task is needed.
- Speakers who are knowledgeable and are not afraid to talk to groups.
- A Historian who, as the group changes over time, acts as the collective memory of the group.
- Social butterflies who help the group bond and enjoy working together by organizing social events, promoting morale, and generally making everything as fun, pleasant and rewarding as possible.
- A Treasurer who is willing to take in, dole out, and account for money.
As you develop your Transition Town groups, keep an eye out for people who have these talents or who can serve these roles. Of course, some people have multiple abilities and take on multiple jobs. If you don't have people who already have the skills, you'll have to develop them from scratch, which may be harder. One Transition Town principle is that "whoever shows up are the right people" - but the leaders still need to make sure that the group is functioning well and has all the tools to succeed. Our TTOKC group could probably use a Marketer - anyone care to apply?
Speaking of skill development, I had to give my first public speech in a long while - to a church group of about 25 Unitarians. My Co-Chair and I traded off speaking on the PowerPoint slides that we had created. I was nervous at first, but at some point I just tried to start connecting with specific people in the audience - that helped. The response was positive, not hostile, and people showed interest by asking questions at the end.
What have your "group" experiences been like? What have you learned that has been useful to you?
Friday, April 24, 2009
7 types of tomatoes: Juliet, Grape, Celebrity, San Marzano, Cherokee Purple, Roma, Lemon Boy
Future home of zuchinni
I noticed yesterday that my Interlaken grape had died. So sad, but I should have been suspicious of anything named Interlaken in my garden - it sounds like it belongs in Sweden. Not tough enough for the heat and humidity in Oklahoma! Or maybe it was just my not-so-benign neglect. Regardless, I jumped on this opportunity to re-purpose my grape trellis for something I've been lusting to plant - Chinese red noodle beans. YES!
Noodle beans from Baker Creek Seeds
While I was planting the red noodle yard-long beans, I saw another patch along the fence with some good sun. This patch would not have been noticeable last year, before my hard-working husband brush-hogged along the East and West fences. Now, I have a nice 2 foot spot for some Malabar spinach - another lovely heat-loving vine I've been itching to try. It's not a true spinach, but (according to my sources) looks and tastes like it, and grows well through the heat of the summer.
So I popped in a modified trellis (a jerryrigged contraption consisting of twine, nails and baby bricks leftover from our patio installation) and planted the seeds! I can't wait! I just hope my "trellis" is strong enough to hold the vines. If not, apparently the Malabar spinach does fine as a groundcover too.
Now, all that's left is to put up a teepee in the actual garden beds for the regular pole beans and a Hyacinth bean for some pizazz. I am really excited about adding color into the garden this year. I spent a lot of time out there last year, and I want to be able to look around and just smile from all the flowers. Of course, colorful herbs and flowers also are supposed to serve as companion plants to encourage pollinators and confuse the malicious insects.
After building the teepee, I need to newspaper and mulch the beds and then, of course, keep watering. Watering this year is much more fun since my son is old enough to come outside with me and run around. Last year I had to rush to water the whole area whenever he was napping. And finally, in about another week I will plant the okra, lantana, and sweet potatoes (apparently it involves something called "slips" or "starters" -?).
Hope all your gardens are looking lovely! Are you doing anything new or different this year?
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Becoming aware of the pervasiveness of oil also means becoming aware of the total dependence of our society on oil and fossil fuels. In the last sixty to seventy years, all of our major systems have become dependent on cheap oil and energy. Food. Material goods. Water. Daily household activities - cooking, cleaning, baking, laundry, heating and cooling the house. Transportation to work, school, daycare, errands, appointments, entertainment. Commerce. Communication.
As these cheap energy systems arose, replacing the old infrastructure with incredible speed, our other systems were lost. The skills and tools that we used to produce food, get our water, conduct business and move our bodies around began to decay and rust away. Now, for the most part, the remnants of the diverse systems we depended on for centuries exist only in other countries (places we don't care to visit outside of picturesque resorts), cultures such as the Amish, and on paper. Most Americans can no longer even remember a time before plastic or cars.
Excessively cheap energy enabled the removal of our most basic systems from our sight, and removed the most basic skills from our repertoire. Farming as a human activity largely disappeared, and the rhythms of agricultural life died. The understanding of our fundamental dependence on ecology faded. Knowledge of soil and sky was replaced by rote memorization of random facts soon forgotten, meaningless without connection to our lives. Seasons were replaced by time clocks and bells. Community and social networks were replaced by money and jobs.
And for some people, this is preferable. For some, a life of cheap energy means a life of freedom and ease, an escape from drudgery and boredom and toil and strife. They have no yearning for fresh air or physical labor. They enjoy an existence in the cocoon of climate control and contrived safety and things that appear on-demand. Some people manage to enjoy the benefits of cheap energy while avoiding the pitfalls caused by the stresses, pollutions, and demands of modern living. They are successful in our age of cheap energy, and the thought of a future based on anything different is so foreign as to be quite distasteful.
But other people feel that something has been lost. Even in my generation - a generation raised as computers began to dominate - or in the generation after - raised on a diet of commercials and infant formula - some of us seem to know that the most essential aspects of our lives have been replaced with cheap conveniences and diminishing returns. Although we've never known another way to live, we recognize that the things that make humans happiest have been replaced with whatever we can get to fill the void.
Peak oil may mean the peak of many good things - but perhaps many bad things will peak and decline as well. When we think of peak oil, we think of the positive things we will lose, but not the negative things that will also fade away. Peak cars may mean peak transportation, but also peak roadkill, motor vehicle accidents, wetlands paved with generic strip malls. Peak medicine may also mean the peak of side effects, pill popping, and interventions that do more harm than good. Peak computers could mean a peak in eyestrain, carpal tunnel syndrome, days spent in a disembodied haze moving digital information.
We may discover that the trade-offs forced by declining energy supplies are not so bad as they might seem, that horse manure is not so much worse than poisonous gasoline fumes, and hauling hay is not worse than assembling widgets. We may discover that a more plant-based diet makes the chicken dinner on Sunday infinitely more tasty and less consumerism makes birthday presents much more exciting.
We may discover that increases in efficiency have only resulted in increased expectations and isolation. We thought we were gaining time with our washers and dryers, but instead we got the expectation that we always be spotless. We thought we were just gaining mobility with our cell phones, but we also got the expectation that we leash ourselves to our jobs day and night. As our energy base erodes year after year, we may need to let go of some of these technologies. Yes, the loss of things like these are painful at first, but we may find that the loss of dishwashers could mean the gain of conversations with friends after dinner as we wash our dishes together, the loss of television might mean the gain of literature. The unknown is frightening, but the unknown is not always bad.
Let's not spend time romanticizing the past, or pretend that we can all go back to a way of life now lost. We have seven times the people on the planet as we did before the age of oil began, and we have degraded many of the ecological supports that provided our way of life. Along the way, we've achieved miracles - miracles that we can choose to save if we shift our attitudes. But let's recognize that past ways of living offered many benefits that we can regain if we consciously choose to let go of our desperate clutching at the status quo.
Is our present situation so incredibly fabulous that we can't imagine anything better? Is our isolated, status-oriented, insecure, substance-addicted, anxiety-riddled, ecologically destructive society so damn wonderful we couldn't prefer any alternatives? Do we really love this way of life? Do we love it so much we are willing to sacrifice our children and the world? Or are we just too scared to step into the abyss and design something better?
Could peak oil mean the beginning of something good? Our lives are so intertwined with cheap oil that the vacuum of it's loss could mean catastrophe, or just an ugly descent into poverty and conflict. No doubt that will happen in some places, in some times. But not everywhere. If some communities can manage the energy decline, embrace the possibilities, preserve the best of what we have achieved even as the excess vanishes, and envision a different path, we can choose to make the future a place where we can really enjoy the meaning and pleasures of our lives.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Help is here! Oklahoma State University - OKC recently announced a timely new horticulture program, an Associates Degree called Sustainable Crops Production. The program is targeted to people who want to sell food through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Farmer's Markets, Food Cooperatives, or directly to restaurants. The program covers topics related to organic/sustainable agriculture, such as managing crops without pesticides, soil fertility, choosing crops that grow well AND will sell well, legal and regulatory requirements, and season extension. Classes also cover the day-to-day practical aspects of food sales like food safety, packaging and labeling, and post-harvest handling.
I spoke with the Head of OSU's Horticultural Department, Julia Laughlin, about the program. She described the courses as being very hands-on / action-oriented, with lots of farm tours, as well as paid farm internships. One of the goals of the program is to eliminate the troubleshooting and trial-and-error process for new farmers/market gardeners, which reduces costs of mistakes and helps students get up and running quickly with their new ventures.
Oklahoma residents pay $96.30 per tuition credit hour at OSU-OKC. The Associates Degree is 61 credit hours, for a total cost of $5874 (my calculations only - not guaranteed!), not including fees, books, room, board, etc. Julia mentioned that OSU-OKC also has a new "Buy 2 Get 1 semester free" tuition waiver program for degree-seeking students, which could cut down costs considerably.
There are three courses being offered that are specific to sustainable food: Sustainable Horticultural Practices, Market Gardening in Fall and Winter, and Market Gardening in Spring and Summer. These are integrated into the OSU's Associate in Applied Science Degree - Sustainable Emphasis. Classes can be taken for credit or non-credit.
Of course, if you are an experienced gardener who wants some specific information about growing, marketing and selling food sustainably, or some time with knowledgeable instructors who can answer questions, you might just take the three Sustainable Practices and Market Gardening courses - 9 hours for $864. Not bad for the education to start a new business, prevent costly mistakes, and help guide your choices.
I asked Adam Carpenter, one of the Sustainable Agriculture program students, his opinion about the program. According to Adam, one of the best features of the classes is the farm tours. The farmers are quick to point out what has not worked for them, as well as what HAS worked. This type of local advice is priceless.
By the way, Adam has already started a CSA and is now taking clients. If you are looking for a Community Supported Agriculture share in the OKC metro area, you might call Adam Carpenter of Urban Farm at 625-2300. He is currently accepting customers and will be starting delivery/pickup service of his local whole foods in June.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Darci Lenker, Trashy Poinsettia
Note: Sustainable OKC is providing seed funding for our Transition Town OKC initiative, so I am a little biased. But not much.
Before the party starts, Transition Town OKC is having our "debut" event at the United Methodist Church at Mayfair Heights at 3131 NW 50th St. between May and Independence, in OKC. While Steering Committee members have spoken several times at film screenings and book groups, it was always with a carefully selected sub-population (environmentalists) who are a fairly friendly crowd. Now we will be interacting directly with the public. Wish us luck!
We have been working hard for the past two weeks to design an interesting and engaging display that balances information about the "Energy Challenge" (aka peak oil) and TTOKC. We are also being careful to avoid being prescriptive - telling people how to respond or what solutions to use - while still providing ideas and concepts about going local / resilience.
Some of the items we are including for our display:
- My Global Sun Oven, (usually an eye-catcher), with some solar cooking handouts
- Books: The Long Emergency, Superbia!, The Transition Handbook, Cooking with Sunshine
- Magazines: National Geographic special edition Energy Issue, Mother Earth News
- Printed reports in binders: The Hirsch Report, the Oil Shockwave report
- Laptop with our continuously running Energy Quiz slideshow
- The Oil Age poster, laminated
- "The Carbon We Keep" picture
- Tri-fold display, with panel 1 - TTOKC, panel 2 - the Energy Challenge, panel 3 - Going Local
- Bookmarks (featuring OKC resources)
- Sign up sheet for our online newsletter (to be developed)
I even invited my sister-in-law, who still hasn't discovered quite how crazy I am. I am enticing her husband and my husband to come to the event by playing up the FREE BARBEQUE.
It's a big weekend for the energy transition in OKC! What's going on for Earth Day in your part of the world?
Friday, April 10, 2009
These are my favorite ways to spend some time as I attempt to lull myself back to sleep:
1. Yoga. If I breathe properly and get into the stretches, I can start relaxing and feel a sense of well-being come over me. Then it's time for sleep.
2. Writing. If I am awake because I am writing a Frau post in my head or because I have a list of things to do scrolling down my brain, I need to write it down. Once it's out of my mind, I can usually get back to sleep.
3. Winning the lottery. This is what I do if I don't want to get of my warm, snuggly bed. Here's how I play: take the last seen powerball amount, divide it in half (to get the immediate payout), divide that number in half (to deduct taxes), and that's the amount I have to play with. So a $104 million powerball would result in $26 million for me in the bank.
I've played this game for a long time. For a year or two it always resulted in lists of countries that I want to visit. Then it was lists of charities to support or create. Right now I usually end up designing a large intentional permaculture community in the middle of the city. (By the way, I've never bought a lottery ticket.)
Anyone else have this issue? What are your tried and true ways to get through those wakeful hours in the middle of the night?
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Gardening can seem simple, but a novice will soon run into plenty of complications. An experienced gardener will know the difference between seed and transplant veggies, cool and warm season crops, compost and cover cropping. A gardener who knows the area will have invaluable knowledge about great varieties, special tricks, and keeping out the critters.
Advice is free, and tours of your garden might be gratis, but when people start needing help with actual physical labor, or want you to visit their yard - consider starting a business. Providing your knowledge and skills can make the difference between success and failure, or gardens getting started or languishing on paper. Offering your knowledge can save your friends and neighbors countless hours of research, reading, and trial and error.
Don't feel bad for charging a fee to help someone set up their garden. Personally, I would be glad to pay someone to save me the labor of creating a raised bed. I imagine many older folks, families with young children, or simply out-of-shape or time-constrained people would be glad as well. People who are planting a garden for fresh taste or to have organic produce will be less price-sensitive than people who are planting gardens to save money. People charge to clean homes, cook food, do taxes, wash laundry, and cut hair. Why not charge for starting a garden?
Consider a "First Time Gardening" Package, priced reasonably for your area. Don't price it too low - you need to make it worth your time or you will swiftly either burn out or go out of business.
Your package might include:
One hour of preliminary consulting (you send them homework to do first - like listing their favorite herbs and veggies), to include site selection and veggie selection
The building and filling of one or two 4 x 8 raised beds
Planting one or two 4 x 8 beds with veggies in the spring, complete with mulch
Printed instructions on how to care for a garden
Printed instructions on common pests for your area and how to deal with them
One hour of free troubleshooting time
You could also offer a bare-bones package that just includes the building and filling of the beds, for people who have the knowledge but not the manpower to create a raised bed. Alternatively, you could offer a platinum package for people who want edible landscaping or permaculture features - a more time intensive process.
Personally, I have always offered a money-back guarantee in my business. No one has ever taken me up on it, although I have the MBG displayed prominently on my website and even on signs in my office. A MBG builds confidence and trust. Have some faith in your fellow neighbors - it could pay you back in spades. OTOH, there are some shady characters out there. Be sure to evaluate your clients before agreeing to do work for them.
Word of mouth and referrals are usually the best marketing, but a website can be a cheap and effective way of advertising if you make it yourself. Business cards are also cost-effective. Regardless of whether you give out free help or charge for your services, be confident that you are helping people improve their health, feel more secure, and enjoy the pleasure of freshly picked produce. The more gardens there are, the more distributed and organic our food production is, the better we'll all be in a recession or oil crisis.
Monday, April 6, 2009
When I found out that Horn had Cherokee Purples ready for sale, along with the fact that they grow their own plants here in OK (in Guthrie), I was sold! I bought a Cherokee Purple, a Juliet, a Grape, and a Lemon Boy.
All this, despite the fact that I had already ordered all the tomato plants I can fit in my little garden from the OK Food Co-op, to be picked up next Thursday. Despite the fact that planting date is not until April 14th. I'm just lucky I managed to get out of there without buying any pepper plants. They had a lot of those too...
Horn will be getting new shipments of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and assorted other transplants every two days for the next two weeks. There should be plenty of opportunities for me to buy more plants that I can't fit in my garden.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
We are scheduled to speak at an End of Suburbia showing, table at a Methodist Earth Day event, present a slide show to the Unitarians, and speak at a Book Club meeting (they are discussing the Transition Town Handbook). Just today we got permission from the Paseo Arts Association to set up a table at their local art walk, "First Fridays".
TTOKC did, however, run into some resistance when we contacted the library system. Apparently their "research" determined that peak oil is a philosophical belief and that we are therefore a political group, which is so far from the truth... If we were going to have an event sponsored by the library, we would have to have someone present "both sides of the story". I'm curious, what IS the other side of the story? Oil supplies are infinite and there are no pollution problems or climate change? There should be a lot of data to back that up.
It seems that the term peak oil is often associated with doomers, conspiracy theorists, and shotgun toting survivalists (not that I have anything against surviving). People's brains tend to shut down when they hear the phrase. I think I should have expected this problem, but somehow it took me a little bit by surprise.
We've decided to reframe peak oil as "the Energy Challenge", at least temporarily, at least when speaking to gatekeepers. You know how Americans like a challenge. It sounds like something competitive. So now TTOKC will be reworking our website and our pamphlets to focus more on the energy challenge than on peak oil - although we won't be taking the phrase "peak oil" out of everything.
It's not global warming, it's climate change! It's not the estate tax, it's the death tax! Frankly, I like the phrase peak oil. I feel it's a very succinct term that explains the problem. Our group can talk about "going local" and "sustainability" all we want, but I feel that unless we have a good, convincing description of the PROBLEM, we aren't going to motivate very many people to change.
As we start interacting more directly with the public, we will need to find a method that makes it easy for people to communicate face-to-face. Catchphrases to use, nifty graphs, easy examples, interesting pictures. There's some great pictures and articles in the most recent edition of the National Geographic.
Actually, I would like to make communicating the peak oil problem as fun as possible (short of handing out free margaritas). This morning I am meeting with some of the my fellow Steering Committee members to come up with some ideas. I am definitely going to have to re-train my brain to avoid the term peak oil. It's going to take time...
Has anyone else run into this issue? Does anyone have a good catchphrase we can use aside from peak oil or the energy challenge?