Monday, December 12, 2011

Vampire coalition unveils "Save the Humans" program

October 31, 2014 -- WASHINGTON D.C. --

The International Vampire Alliance for Human Survival tonight announced their most drastic and unprecedented move yet - the overnight conversion of hundreds of influential political, business and media figures, and many of the 2014 Climate Summit delegates, into bloodsucking creatures of the night.

Since they publicly announced their presence five years ago, vampires have been lobbying for significant and legally-binding carbon emission cuts, along with water, topsoil and biodiversity conservation measures. The immortals are personally invested in the future of the planet, as they can live thousands of years, or until staked in the heart, or exposed to the sun for a significant length of time, at which point they become black and crispy.

Newly converted spokes-vampire Colin Powell said, "Considering the abysmal record of past Climate Summits, and the complete impotence of our midnight rallies and protests, we vampires concluded we had no choice but to step it up a notch and create leaders who have a vested interest in something more than the next campaign. Even if the new leadership does happen to drink blood."

Vampires were quick to point out that climate legislation would be good for humans. "Of course we care about the environment," said eight-hundred year old vampire Neills Carson. "But mainly, we care about humans - they're our primary food source. And if you guys are all crowded up around Siberia and Canada, fighting for space and getting drowned in tsunamis and dying of malaria and famines in fifty years or so, well, let's just say that things are going to get ugly. I sure as hell don't want to live through another century of the Black Death - do you?"

Some pundits called the mass conversion "overkill," while political analysts called it "the epitome of the international coup d'etat." Vampires repudiated these labels, claiming their Save the Humans project simply aims to "increase conservation of human populations and the ecosystems that support them."

Vampires also responded to allegations of forced conversions, stating that all of the converted were consenting adults. An anonymous vampire source confided, "Seriously, do you think this is how I wanted to spend my weekend - sucking blood from schmucks who didn't have the balls to stand up for their grandkids' future? Jesus, I hope it was worth it - I'm going to have to spend all next month de-toxing Viagra and Lipitor out of my system."

The Climate Summit is scheduled to proceed despite the scores of representatives who have been "changed." Summit meetings and votes will now be held between 8 p.m. and dawn, while human delegates volunteered en masse to offer personal blood donations, which reportedly are rather pleasant.

Vampire ecologist William McGreer, Ph.D, commented on the critical importance of the outcome of the Climate Summit. "Saving humans is vital to the vampire food chain. If humanity experiences a serious population decline, other species will survive, perhaps even thrive, but not us." He concluded, "It's painful to admit, but even as a far superior species, with all our power, technology, immortality, indefatigable strength and speed, and supernatural beauty... unfortunately, we still kind of need them."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ten ways to turn from a consumer to a producer


Growing up in America, my generation was taught that any and every need could be met by a particular product or service, all of which were just waiting to be purchased. To afford these purchases as part of a "lifestyle," the proper career path for middle class people was to attend college, learn an intricately detailed specialization in order to make a salary, and buy whatever we might need or desire, from childcare to lawn services to fast food to psychiatric services.


While specialization can certainly make economic sense, the pendulum swung too far. We grew up to be thoroughly knowledgeable in a very narrow field, yet helpless and unempowered in every other walk of life, at the mercy of a cheap-energy growth economy supported by underpaid or slave labor and ongoing environmental destruction. While we grew up believing that having the money to purchase all of our needs equaled independence, many of us have learned that we've inherited a thinly-disguised dependence on the vast, complicated systems needed to support us.

In order to reclaim skills once lost, regain a sense of control over the process of your life, and withdraw your support from the often-immoral, often-unsatisfying industrial economy, consider becoming a producer of the things you want and need - in your home, your garage, your workshop and your garden.

If you'd like to produce a few things of your own, here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Gardening and Farming

Grow your own food! From peaches to tomatoes, some things just taste better when home-grown. And when you can measure the age of your produce in minutes rather than weeks, you are sure to retain more nutrition. Not only that, but you can grow your food organically for cheaper than Whole Foods prices, while forgoing the wasted packaging that comes with commercially-purchased products.

You don't have to move to the country to start growing plants. A few semi-dwarf fruit trees in your yard can yield you hundreds of pounds of fruit. And once you become a gardener, you'll also gain automatic entrance to a community that loves to talk about plants, soil, weather...while slipping each other some canned peaches and fresh chard.

2. Growing Medicinal Herbs

Western medicine and pharmaceutical companies depend on a distributed, just-in-time supply chain with manufacturing facilities around the world, along with an insurance industry dependent on denying care in order to increase profits. Many pharmaceuticals have never proven to be better than placebos, and are often laced with under-communicated side effects. Alternatively, many herbs have been shown to be highly effective in treating problems and supporting health. Consider learning how to grow and preserve the medicinal plants that do well in your climate. Yet don't make the mistake of believing that all 'natural' drugs are harmless - consider the toxic effects of nightshade, hemlock and yew, for instance.

3. Home brewing


Brewing your own wine, beer, or cider makes sense because you can save some money, learn a skill, create a superior unique product, all while helping the environment. If you brew your own, you can reuse the same bottles over and over while not needing to spend gas and carbon transporting the full weight of the liquid. You can start with commercial brewing kits while learning how to grow hops, grapes, grain, and other raw materials for your brew.


4. Preserving food - freezing, canning, dehydrating, pickling

You don't have to purchase industrial jam and sugar-laden dried fruit - you can preserve ingredients purchased in-season, picked at the height of flavor, from local farmers who use ethical and sustainable methods to grow food. You can start small with the excess from your garden, with vegetables like home-grown tomatoes, or with your favorite fruits and vegetables like peaches and blackberries.

5. Cooking & Baking

The decline of the home-cooked meal is a sad byproduct of the specialty age, a lack of cooking skills, two-income families with over-scheduled children, and a plethora of cheap and easy alternatives such as fast food and frozen meals. As a result, child nutrition and health have withered along with family connectedness and communication.

Yet cooking a simple, nutritious meal is no harder than driving to a fast food outlet. With practice, that is. If whole foods are unfamiliar, start with easy stuff. If fresh foods seem expensive, try cutting down the meat, or grow a few pots of herbs and a cherry tomato plant. Save money, improve your health, and hang out with the family while you cook -or while the kids cook. If you have to pick just one, this might be the place to start.

6. Health services

So-called "alternative" medicines are usually practices that have been in use for thousands of years, and need little energy, materials, or infrastructure. These types of health-supporting modalities include massage therapy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, yoga, mindfulness meditation and physical therapy. If you have the time and ability to learn these healing arts, they can easily be practiced in a spare room of your home. Not only can these skills benefit you and your family, but they can be an income source when many "jobs" are gone.

7. Small crafts

Whether you make trellises from grapevines, sew clothes, craft soaps and candles, weld tools and frames, or build custom carpentry, you can make your workshop work for you. Consider adding simple, repairable hand tools to your arsenal of complex, battery powered tools, and think about finding local sources for your materials.

8. Repair work

Sewing and mending, re-upholstering, shoe repair, fixing bikes and small appliances. Repair work will be a growth industry, as we turn from a throw-away to a fix-it economy. When it becomes more expensive to purchase, or unreliable to find, new products, repair work will return to being a profitable profession.

9. Garden support

Plenty of gardeners don't know how to save seeds, grow transplants or plant a garden. There is money to be made in providing seeds, transplants, compost and fertilizer to gardeners, along with consulting services such as permaculture design and labor services like constructing raised beds.

10. Small livestock

Bees, chickens, ducks and rabbits provide a plethora of benefits to your home ecosystem. Aside from the obvious edible products of honey, meat and eggs, small livestock can consume scraps, patrol for insects, provide pollination, and produce fertilizer. And if you don't want to eat them, they make fun (and educational) pets.

*********
So choose your favorites, and get started on an adventure! Each skill will have a learning curve, and you may not have success at every turn. Don't be afraid of failure - occasional mistakes are better than the alternative of forever continuing to consume, consume, consume.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Moving Planet OK

September 24, 2011 - Cyclists, skaters and walkers gathered at the new Womb art space in preparation for a people-powered caravan to Oklahoma City Hall on September 24, the 350.org international day of action called Moving Planet. Students, families and health and environmental advocates from all across the metro area checked in and lined up, ready for the journey to support the goal of becoming a top-10 state in health and sustainability.



Oklahoma and Oklahoma City, you see, rank at the very bottom of all national lists of health and sustainability, classing us as one of the most unhealthy and most unsustainable places in America - with more and earlier deaths, more hospitalizations, more health expenditures, and in several respects, a lower quality of life. We wanted to call attention to the key links between health and sustainability and the positive efforts of our community partners to improve our rankings.

Despite the serious goal, the atmosphere was festive. How could it not be, in a neon-colored building with an art installation by artist BigFoot and pink and green balloons floating around the space? Excitement built as more and more students, families, and teams arrived at the Womb and then set out on bike, on foot, and on skates for City Hall.

As participants arrived at the Municipal building, they had the opportunity to sign a "leaf" with their hopes for health and sustainability and place it on our sign, which then became a photo magnet for our community partner teams and the whole group.

When the caravan arrived back at the Womb, they were treated to sandwiches, local watermelon and apples from the Urban Agrarian, and local beer from COOP, along with live music, a seed giveaway, and art activities. Unique fused glass ornaments were available for sale as a fundraiser and as a way to create art by placing them on the "Bike Dance" metal sculpture. Participants also had the opportunity to learn about our community partners - non-profits and businesses working in our city and state to promote local healthy food, energy efficiency, fitness and health, and environmental protection.

The event was topped by remarks from Dr. Ed Shadid, Oklahoma City councilman and physician, who discussed the connections between our health crisis and sustainability. His remarks introduced the auction of the "Bike Dance" metal sculpture by local artist Bill Byrd, to benefit Closer to Earth, a non-profit group that empowers youth through urban organic gardening.

An event of this size and complexity takes some effort and resources to implement. Sierra Club, Transition OKC, Sustainable OKC, and the University of Central Oklahoma worked with community partners to create buzz and support for the effort, and designed the action-art-festival to accomplish many goals at once: connecting the health and sustainability communities, participating in 350.org's international day of action, promoting the need for a top-10 state, and providing a fun way for citizens to exercise their democratic right to expression - all while raising money for a cause.

Moving Planet OK also offered a model for more sustainable events. We used local food, local beer, local artists and artisans and promoted their involvement. To minimize waste, we employed re-usable cups and recycled and composted. We offered vegetarian options (a rarity in Oklahoma City). Our T-shirts used organic cotton, our printed materials used recycled paper, and our artists used scrap and found pieces for our art auction.

The energy of the participants and dedication of the volunteers made all the planning and preparation - and chaos and heartache - worth it. Organizers from four different organizations met weekly over an 8-week period and almost daily through the final two weeks as we pulled together Facebook, website and media, community partners and sponsors, metal sculpture and glass art, signage and educational displays, activities, location, food and beer.

We encountered numerous complications along the way, resulting in many interesting conversations, compromises, and the need to move on to plans B, C, and D. Beer, that most important of celebratory ingredients, proved to be incredibly tough to get approved. Fortunately, after sixteen phone calls and four personal visits, tenacious organizer Whitney P. finally wrestled the ABLE commission into granting a permit.

Thank goodness for teammates like Whitney, who keep going through the weird, twisting tunnel until we finally reach the light. Many thanks to Vicki, Whitney, Marcy, Susie, Debbie, Amy, Randy, Lindsey, Tricia, Doug, Bud, and Tim, who hung in there with me until the fun-filled end. Cheers!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Closer to Earth


Long-time environmental advocates often become overwhelmed with the scope of community transformation needed to carry our society through the energy and environmental challenges we face. Overwhelmed and underfunded, we can sometimes become bitter, burnt-out, or even turn away from our calling to build community, sustainability and resiliency.

Not Allen Parleir, founder and coordinator of Oklahoma City's Closer to Earth, a non-profit youth group that empowers teenagers through urban organic gardening.

Allen reports that in his thirty-plus years of working with youth, he has never been as enthusiastic and positive as he is now. As with most grass-roots projects, Closer to Earth does a lot with a little - accomplishing many goals all at once - teaching respect for the earth and for all the inhabitants of our planet, sharing skills of composting and gardening, promoting healthy choices and actions to stop climate change, and facilitating zero-waste practices by composting food from events like the annual Slow Food Picnic and the Peace Fest.

Closer to Earth, founded in 2007 as a partnership between several local organizations, focuses on developing leadership skills in the twelve interns and about 350 students per year who participate in community service and volunteer events. Teenagers learn to transform their lives by mentoring other youth and by taking responsibility through active decision-making. In turn, they transform the places they care about.

In a model Allen calls "growth through responsibility," teenagers are immediately tasked with teaching skills to other students, public speaking, and making all the key decisions needed to run a non-profit, including schedules, wages, and hiring decisions. Students are empowered to communicate effectively and to work through differences peacefully in the community garden sanctuary where they experience a sense of safety, respect, and belonging.

Although the model is crucial, Allen says that there is "just something about getting their hands in the dirt" that connects the students with the larger world and helps them feel a part of a community. Growing food also allows them to experience the empowerment that comes with providing fresh food for their families, giving the food they produce to food pantries and selling vegetables to local restaurants and stores.

With a critical grant running out at the end of 2011, Closer to Earth needs funding to pay the youth interns and a part-time coordinator, and to purchase a van for transporting students to the garden sites. However, you'll only hear this if you ask, as Allen firmly believes in practicing "attraction" rather than promotion. Although he freely shares information with anyone who inquires, Allen believes that if the group focuses on the work they are accomplishing, the universe will provide what is needed. In fact, his faith in the community has been borne out several times, most recently last week when an unexpected benefactor drove across the country to drop off a free 2009 pick-up truck for their composting operation.

Allen Parleir's faith is yielding fruit once more. Participants in the Moving Planet Oklahoma action-art-festival on September 24 will be creating and auctioning an art piece to benefit Closer to Earth. The auction will top a morning of fun, festivities, and education located at Wayne Coyne and Company's new Womb art space in Oklahoma City. The event is designed to promote and publicize the goal of becoming a top-10 state in health and sustainability - ranked highly in clean air and water, clean energy and energy conservation, walkable and bikeable communities, and local food.

Moving Planet OK is free and registration is encouraged. You can also invite your friends through the event Facebook page. Show up, bring friends, and have fun promoting health and sustainability and raising funds for a great cause.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rich Sweetness 132: One tough cookie

You may be aware that Oklahoma is suffering a scorchingly dry summer, record-breaking in it's magnitude, miserable for the animals, humans and plants living through it. We've had temperatures consistently above 100 degrees - sometimes soaring up to 108 and 109 - for the past six weeks, with only two short bursts of rain. Farms and gardens across Oklahoma, along with much of the American South, are yielding perhaps 20 - 40% of their normal crops. Even my heat-loving okra are wilting, the sweet potato vines scorching. Nothing wants to grow.

Except.

My Rich Sweetness 132 melons, which apparently thrive on misery. Looking for a small melon, I found this heirloom variety from the former Soviet Union in the amazing Baker Creek Rare Seeds catalog last year. Intrigued by the funky striped appearance and the promising description of "very productive all season long," I planted four hills around a home-made watering olla in one of my crop circles in the six feet between my neighbor's driveway and my own, not sure what to expect but hoping for something tough, as that site gets one hundred percent sun, all day long, and is surrounded by concrete.

I thought I might have a winner when the vines began to explode out of the circle, despite the already-stifling drought. Like the rest of my garden, the crop circles are fed in spring with compost and then covered with newspapers and straw mulch after transplants are placed and seeds have sprouted. Still, despite the compost, mulch, and olla, I've had to water the garden every day, as we are getting no natural precipitation and are enduring 100+ daily temperatures. (Perhaps next year I'll try soaker hoses.) In late June, I began to see what appeared to be tiny watermelons dotting the vines, soon turning to a striped red and gold, like miniature Tiggers sitting patiently on the mulch.

When I could smell their rich melon aroma, I began to harvest them. Since then, the Rich Sweetness 132's have just kept coming. The flesh is white, with a milder taste than regular cantaloupe and less sweetness than a watermelon. Reactions vary - some people are bored by the mild flavor, some rave about the creamy taste and heady fragrance.

My favorite attribute (aside from the fact that the fruit are actually producing, and that they are unusually cool-looking) is the small size of the melons. Their single serving snack size means that I don't have to have a crowd at my house to eat one, nor do I have to stuff myself with cantaloupe and then wrap the rest up in plastic and put it in the fridge, consuming precious shelf space. Instead, I can easily eat one in a sitting, much like an apple or a peach.

After the performance of this melon this summer, I'm encouraging all my friends to save the seeds from the heirloom RS132s that I've been giving them. They are not the most flavorful melons in the whole wide world (to my taste - as I mentioned, some people love them), but I have a feeling we are going to need plants that can thrive in desert-like conditions. Rephrase: we ALREADY need food plants that thrive in desert-like conditions.

In fact, we've harvested so many of these cheerful little melons that I decided to haul a small load to my favorite local food seller, Matt Burch of the Urban Agrarian. I planned to give them to him for free as a fun attention-attracting eye-catcher for his market booth, but he insisted on trading me a dozen eggs and five medium sized tomatoes for fourteen melons, which we priced at $1 each.


I hope his customers love them; he had sold four already in the quarter hour I spent checking out his wares, which included eggs, a variety of meats, Earth Elements baked goods and jams, and watermelon, okra, garlic, tomatoes, zukes and cukes. Matt parks his Veggie Van out at Cheever's every Sunday, disregarding the ridiculous weather to deliver fresh food to the good people of Oklahoma City. Thanks Matt!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dilithium Crystals 'most likely' to power next generation

June 18, 2012 -- CAMBRIDGE, MASS --


In a Gallup poll released today, Americans chose dilithium crystals as the "most likely" fuel to run future cars and power plants, with 84% of Americans choosing the crystals over other options including nuclear, hydrogen, corn ethanol, shale gas, and photovoltaic solar panels. Respondents indicated that dilithium crystals are popular for providing quiet, clean energy, with a proven track record of seven-hundred twenty-six episodes in four different Star Trek television series.

Professor Stephen Palmer, of MIT, claims that dilithium crystals have "literally unlimited potential" for the future of energy, reporting, "Based on my research, which includes careful observation of over ten thousand hours of Deep Space Nine and Voyager re-runs, dilithium crystals have a virtually infinite capacity for power generation."

Palmer explains, "The crystals provide power for starship warp drives by channeling electro-plasma released by the mutual annihilation from extremely high temperatures and electro-magnetic radiation. And since Spock and Scotty solved the problem of gradual decrystalization during their time travel mission to the twenty-third century, all we have to do is harness this energy, and BAM! - we're set for the next five thousand years."


Results from the poll led several U.S. Senators to call for increased funding of NASA, which has languished in recent years due to budget cuts. Anthony Baden (R-NY), said, "According to several popular television shows, dilithium crystals are the fuel of tomorrow. Our only problem seems to be obtaining the crystals from the planet Rura Penthe in the Klingon Empire. If we can get hold of a warp drive, maybe from the Chinese, we can pop these dilithium puppies in our nuclear plants by the next election cycle."

Although some skeptics called the crystals "unproven technology," a majority of respondents identified environmentalists, big government, and big oil as the top culprits preventing the United States from switching to this low-carbon fuel. Sarah Train, a student in Massachusetts, said, "Permanently free power? Seems like a good idea to me. So I'm not really sure why we're not using the crystals yet, but I'm pretty confident it involves treehuggers or bureaucracy. Maybe both."

Transition US, a grass-roots sustainability group, called dilithium crystals "science fiction," instead suggesting that communities re-localize in the face of the energy and financial crises that have plagued the U.S. since 2007. Raven Baker, spokesperson for TUS, says, "Don't wait for the government or corporations to deliver a miracle at some undetermined time in the future. Grow some food. Build low-tech, distributed energy solutions. Conserve. Reorganize cities so travel is less necessary."

Joe Burns, an engineer in Atlanta, scoffed at these recommendations. "Community - ha! Somebody explain how I can fill up my SUV's 40-gallon fuel tank with community. And growing a garden, c'mon. Who do they think I am, an immigrant?"



"I need a realistic answer to my problems, and dilithium crystals seem to fit the bill. So if I have to sit on my butt while the government spends half a trillion dollars and thirty years chasing a pipe dream until every other option has evaporated ... well, I've gotten pretty good at that."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Permaculture: Design, Practice, Evolve

Way back when I first learned that cheap oil was the underlying foundation of our economy and lifestyle, and that oil was due to peak and begin a decline somewhere between five and twenty-five years, I searched for signs of hope.

The picture was grim. I found that industrialized agriculture depends on oil and fossil fuels, and people across America have forgotten how to garden, farm, preserve food, bake, even cook. I realized that most cities are designed for cars, not people, and so people live far from their work, entertainment, and shopping, making them car-dependent. Our collective health was declining in a crisis of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, with health and insurance costs ratcheting up every year. Our financial system, based on an ever-increasing cycle of debt and bubbles, seemed poised to explode. All the environmental indicators - topsoil, water, bio-diversity, ocean life, pollution - were (and still are) in a downward spiral.

Yet even amidst the signposts of doom, hope was working quietly in the wings in the form of grass-roots re-skilling movements, organic agriculture revitalization, localization, small-scale appropriate technology development, environmental and social activism, and permaculture.

Permaculture, a sustainable design system based on working with and harnessing the forces and processes of nature, rather than fighting them, seemed to be the most revolutionary. Permaculture's foundation of ethics and principles make it applicable all around the world, in a variety of different climates, eco-systems, and cultures. Ever since I encountered this system, I have been searching for a way to take a full-scale permaculture design course, but every course I found was far away and would require an extended time away from my family.

My luck has changed. Now, Transition OKC is bringing Scott Pittman, of the respected Permaculture Institute, to Oklahoma City for a full-scale, 72-hour design course, taught alongside guest instructors including Oklahoma City's own rebel permaculturist Bob Waldrop. The course will be spread over four weekends in August, September, October, and November of 2011. Class topics include design principles for sustainable living, permaculture techniques, natural building methods, dryland restoration, renewable energy, rainwater harvesting, food forests, community building, and more.

Transition OKC has even been industriously seeking out grants and funding to cut the cost of the course to make it affordable during a recession. Because of these grants, the cost of the class is only $750 if you register one month before the course begins on August 4th, $800 thereafter. Applicants who want to apply for a half-tuition scholarship from Sustainable OKC should act NOW - applications for the four scholarships are due by June 30th.

In my view, permaculture could be a vital contributor to a transition to a more sustainable and resilient system of living, working, and interacting with our communities. Knowledge and application of permaculture will make a difference in a world with less energy, fewer resources, and increasing inequity - the difference between poverty and sufficiency, the difference between continuing to degrade our habitats, or the ability to help heal them.

But permaculture, despite the potential, cannot be learned overnight. Learning permaculture requires work, study, practice, and customization to each eco-system. I'm looking forward to my opportunity to continue learning with Scott Pittman this fall, in Oklahoma City. The sooner we start, the better.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Retired Marine opens ninth Peak Oil Boot Camp

Jan. 1, 2013 -- Somewhere, Texas --


Retired Marine Master Sergeant Jasper Sweet today announced the opening of his ninth Peak Oil Boot Camp - this one in Somewhere, Texas. During the opening ceremony, Master Sergeant Sweet spoke about his calling to open the Camps. "After thirty-two years serving my country, I realized America needed people every bit as tough as soldiers - she needed farmers. And by God, I'm going to give them to her, even if I have to wipe the snot off the nose of every last pansy-a$$ juvenile delinquent in Texas."



Parents send their frequently over-priveleged, occasionally criminal, teenagers to the camps to learn specific skills such as growing food, scavenging parts, first-aid care, and baking bread, along with fundamentals like hard work, cooperation, and planning. They pay handsomely for the service, which boasts a success rate of 93% felony-free graduates three years after completing the program.



John Franks, a mid-level manager from Connecticut, confided, "I knew my son needed to learn a few things when I realized he was afraid of earthworms. And roly-polys. Maybe this camp will toughen him up a bit - right now, the only callus he's ever had is from gripping his Wii too tightly."

During the four-month program, camp attendees build a passive-solar house, plant a fruit and nut orchard, start and maintain a garden, and learn how to jerry-rig everything from washing machines to windmill-powered battery systems to blenders. POBC recruits rise at 6 a.m., practice calisthenics and strength training, attend classes and work, clean camp, and go to bed at 10 p.m., after a dinner grown and cooked by recruits on-site. Until the first group house is completed, the group sleeps on the ground outside, huddling together like puppies for warmth.


Drill Sergeant Eric Harrison, who teaches in Camp Wakeup, Alabama, discussed the content of the intensive permaculture, organic agriculture and perennial polyculture courses studied by all recruits. "Pesticides? Herbicides? If you know anything about peak oil, you know that $#it ain't going to be around in twenty years. Besides, until I see some Monsanto m#$%&*%^$#&s swig a big gulp of that $#it they're selling, I'm not spraying it on food eaten by my kids."


Scholarship graduates of the camp, which includes room, board, and health care, spend two years of service working to build community gardens, mini-farms, and community centers in cities across the country - all of which are prepared to weather blackouts, tornadoes, ice storms, heat waves, oil shocks, currency devaluations, hyperinflation, economic collapse, and hell or high water.



"You've got a lot of sheep out there still living in denial," said MSgt. Sweet. "They're still clutching their entitlements, their comforts, their cushy jobs where they sit on their a$$es all day. What are they going to do when the $#it hits the fan and sprays all over their comfy assumptions? Come running for help, that's what, and we've got to be prepared to give it to them. Because this is America, by God, and I'm not going to stand by and watch three-year olds starving in the streets."



While some criticize Sgt. Sweet for his take-no-prisoners style and particularly foul mouth, Boot Camp graduates stand by their founder with pride. Murphy Bryant spoke from her office in Virginia, where she recently opened a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. "Three years ago, I didn't know an artichoke from an...um, armpit. I was clueless in every sense of the word. Physically, mentally, emotionally. I couldn't even spend half an hour away from my iPhone without withdrawal. Now, I can plant an acre of fava beans without breaking a sweat, harness ten different kinds of power, organize a crew of forty farmworkers, and bandage a tractor wound."

Ms. Bryant concluded, "And maybe most importantly, I CAN handle the truth."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Live Webchat on Energy Bulletin

On Monday, June 6th, Kurt Cobb and I will be co-webchatting (not a verb in the Oxford dictionary...yet) on Energy Bulletin about presenting peak oil with humor and fiction. Kurt is the author of Prelude, a novel about peak oil, and a founding member of ASPO-USA. He blogs at Resource Insights.

Energy Bulletin asked me to join Kurt on the chat for my work in the fictional short form, including the A Day in the Life series and my Onion-style satires: The Gathering Hordes, The iFinger, Radically Honest Man Tarred, Feathered, and Hell Announces Pilot Colonization Program.

If you've got a burning desire to ask me or Kurt a question about presenting peak oil with humor and fiction, act now! Submit your question to Energy Bulletin before the live webchat, or just join us on Monday. Toss me a few softballs, ok?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Winner of Edible Front Yard book

Random.org has pronounced Commentor #16, Christine Robins, to be the winner. Congratulations!

Christine, please comment in with your (U.S.) address, e-mail and phone number and I will send you a copy of Ivette Soler's The Edible Front Yard. Your comment will not be published. If I have not heard from you by the end of Friday the 20th, I will give the book away to another commentor.

Have fun with all your edible landscape and front yard garden adventures!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Giveaway - Edible Front Yard



Ivette Soler's new book The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-less, Grow-more Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden is lush with pictures and full of design advice, color combinations, attractive edibles, and hardscaping ideas. Ivette (a.k.a. The Germinatrix), a garden designer and writer, insists on beauty and style in her front-yard edible landscapes and gardens. She advises "Beauty matters...your front yard is a greeting to the world."




Ivette advises us that "Growing food in your front yard is a courageous expression: you are telling people that you care about what your family eats," then continues with ways to draw inspiration from your home's style, regionally-adapted favorites, and edible choices that deliver multiple benefits - visual, herbal, edible, and structural.



Ivette shares her list of "Supermodels" - plants she has selected as the most attractive for the full growing season, as well as "Helper" plants - attractive, evergreen or structural ornamentals that are also medicinal herbs or useful in some way (for example, aloe, yarrow, agave, and daylilies). These helpers create a backbone for your garden to look good year-round, instead of merely during the planting season.




Ivette's eco-friendly vibe is strongest when recommending environmental choices such as urbanite and other easy-on-the-budget hardscaping choices, or when recommending ways to organically maintaining your front yard without the use of Round-up or pesticides. However, you won't find much information on attracting beneficial insects or wildlife, or techniques like swales, ollas or rainwater barrels. Instead, Ivette strongly recommends installing a permanent watering / irrigation system.




Her garden designs, and her plant lists, rely mainly plants that do well in her climate (Southern California), which is dry and hot - similar to ours here in Oklahoma, but with a bit less frost. Gardeners in cold, wet, short-season climates may not find the book as useful as those in hotter climates.



The Edible Front Yard, as well as Rosalind Creasy's classic text Edible Landscaping have wonderful pictures, great lists of attractive edibles, and useful design advice. If you are designing your own front yard garden, combine these books with a permaculture manual like Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment stating which the book you would like - Rosalind Creasy's book or Ivette Soler's The Edible Front Yard. I will pick the winner via random drawing on Wednesday the 18th.

Happy front yard gardening!

Note: This is an unsolicited review; I have not been compensated in any way.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A call for front yard gardeners

Although food gardening is making a comeback due to concerns about the economy, the health of our families and viability of our food systems, many gardeners won't consider gardening in their front yard - even when the back yard suffers from excess shade or other problems that make growing food difficult.



Objections to front-yard gardening seem to fall into three categories: 1) fear of what the neighbors will think, 2) fear that food will be stolen, and 3) fear of code enforcement. Yet often, these fears can be addressed with a few precautions and proper design. Let's get over our fears of neighborly gossip and petty theft and bring on the front-yard gardening!


Not only will expanding to the front provide us more space to grow healthy food, and reduce the need for the chemicals, water and mowing usually needed to keep a lawn looking so exquisitely monocultured, it can help demonstrate the practice of growing organic food and build community in our neighborhoods. The time is ripe to move from our back yards to our fronts, throw conformity to the wind, and plant some food.

Demonstration

America has been dominated by the expensive and chemical-intensive lawn culture for far too long. We desperately need other examples of beauty outside of the "lawn + hedge + one tree" formula in our neighborhoods. Why not showcase an edible landscape, designed to be both beautiful and productive?


If you don't want to plant tomatoes in your front yard for fear of sprawling plants exploding out of their cages, there are plenty of attractive vegetable and fruit options. Plant some beautiful edibles: blossoming fruit trees with glossy leaves, evergreen thyme, rosemary and purple sage, groundcovers of watermelons, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes, or peppers with their fruit dangling in the breeze.


Plant easy-care lovelies like daylilies or salvias around your garden areas, and include plenty of blooming flowers to attract beneficial insects such as bees, ladybugs and parasitic wasps. Plant a few evergreens so your landscape doesn't turn a harsh, bland brown in the winter. People will soon get the idea that gardens don't have to be ugly places.


Including beautiful ornamentals such as roses, along with mulch and attractive hard-scaping such as weathered brick, flagstones or ornamental boulders, will give your front-yard garden a finishing touch and distinguish it from the unmowed, weedy lawns that attract disapproval and code-enforcement calls.


Community


Front yard gardens force us to spend time in our front yards - watering, weeding, harvesting, pruning, thinning, admiring the fruits of our labor. Neighbors will naturally be curious as to your activities. Those who have green-thumbs will stop to ask you about your favorite tomato varieties and see if you need any extra Swiss chard. While not all neighbors may approve, plenty will admire your chutzpah and want to meet the bold edible landscape owner (you).


In this easy way, you can meet many of your neighbors who just happen to be walking by with their dog or baby stroller. You may develop a gardening network of neighbors who exchange peaches for okra and watermelons for squash. Who knows? Maybe this could be the start of a gardening club, book club, green living group, or home-brewing cooperative.


Education


By siting a demonstration garden in your front yard, and spending time out there meeting your neighbors, you have a prime opportunity to educate your community about organic gardening, permaculture, the benefits of growing your own food, the need to provide habitat and food for birds and bees, the purpose of rainwater barrels, saving seeds, supporting local farmers, and so on and so forth.

The design of your garden can support your educational efforts. Incorporating flowers that attract beneficial insects, therefore reducing the needs for pesticides, using deep mulch techniques and swales to cut the need for watering, featuring a rainwater barrel in your front yard (perhaps covered with a vine), and planting a diverse variety of different edibles in permacultured layers - all these techniques offer opportunities to share knowledge.


Education can extend beyond your immediate neighborhood. You can reach out to the sustainability, permaculture, gardening, local food or environmental communities and give tours to various groups who are eager to see design put into action - especially in an attractive, neighbor-friendly kind of way.


I have twice transformed my front yard from grass to perennials, and both times the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. In Denver, I designed and planted a xeriscape that needed virtually no additional watering after getting established, and here in Oklahoma City, my partially-permablitzed front yard has four fruit trees (two peach, one apple and one persimmon) and has sported watermelons, summer squash, winter squash, thyme, oregano, mint, and peppers. Rather than find fruits and vegetables horrifying or bizarre, most people find food plants to be fascinating.


Luckily, I don't live in an area with restrictive HOA covenants or strict municipal codes that might torpedo my efforts, but I still try a little harder to keep the front neat and attractive, keep the flowers blooming, top off the mulch every year, and remove the weeds and the fallen fruit. I'm not always successful at keeping it tidy, but this extra care and attention helps make a front yard garden an attractive model to emulate, not to avoid. The work is repaid when my edible landscape inspires conversation, helps me meet other gardeners, attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees, and produces so much fruit I have to give it away.


So if you need room for more garden, and want to expand to the front of your home, forge on! Work through the worries of neighborly disapproval, code enforcement, and pilfered produce. It's quite possible that not every single one of your neighbors will love your new yard, but so what? You can be a catalyst - a model for many front yard gardens, all cutting the need for chemicals, gas-powered mowers and excessive watering. All, cutting the need to import produce from Chile, Mexico, and China. All, symbolic of the world we are working for - a world of healthy local food, strong communities, bountiful biodiversity, and the simple, and subversive, act of sharing.




References:


Gaia's Garden, 2nd Ed. Toby Hemenway


Rosalind Creasey's Edible Landscaping (series)


The Edible Front Yard, Ivette Soler


Great Garden Companions, Sally Jean Cunningham


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Six Strategies for Nonprofit Shoestring Budgets

Do you feel a pressing need to help your community transition to a more sustainable and resilient economy and agriculture, but don't think you have the money needed to fund a Transition project or nonprofit organization?






If you are willing to work for free, fear not! You can start your own Transition initiative - workshops, film screenings, networking events, and permablitzes - with only a shoestring budget. There is one vital prerequisite: you need a core group of dedicated volunteers, ideally people who have a variety of community connections and are willing to donate their time to organize and market the group's events and other offerings. These people are the foundation of all your efforts and the heart of your organization.

Six strategies that will help get you started with a minimum budget include:


1. Partner with an established organization

In the United States, nonprofit organizations can obtain special 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the IRS, which has obvious money-saving benefits, but requires an extensive amount of time and hassle to achieve. If you have a vision and mission aligned with a nonprofit organization that already has 501(c)(3) status, and they agree to sponsor your efforts, you will have avoided a lot of delays and paperwork headaches. These groups often have a budget to get you started, and resources are available to 501(c)(3) groups that are not available to other organizations (for example, discounted software and special bulk mailing rates). Additionally, if your sponsoring group has an established membership, you will automatically have a pool of contacts to notify of events, projects, and volunteer needs.


If you do decide to partner with an established 501(c)(3) or other organization, be aware that part of your efforts will likely go toward maintaining communication with their board, supporting their efforts (fundraising and otherwise), requesting permission for expenditures, and may require some compromises on your part. In most cases, if your relationship is collegial and the board lets you operate autonomously, the time spent is well worth the rewards.

2. Take advantage of free and low-cost marketing

You can design and market workshops, film screenings, fundraisers and other projects using Facebook, Twitter, and Constant Contact. Facebook allows you to create "events" and invite your friends, who can then invite their friends, and so forth. Constant Contact enables you to e-mail attractive event invitations to hundreds or thousands of people without automatically being relegated to the spam box. Facebook is free, while Constant Contact has a free starting promotion, which you can upgrade once you reach a certain number contacts.

Find your local listservs, which are e-mail groups that allow people to share information and ask questions about common topics of interest. There may be local food, environmental, peak oil, health, emergency preparedness, gardening, permaculture, or sustainability listservs in your area that you can use to spread the word about your group's offerings.



Note that online marketing will inevitably miss a portion of the population. If you are marketing to older people, or those who can't afford computers, be sure to include alternative marketing strategies such as posters and fliers in appropriate places, announcements in printed newsletters, etc. However, if you are not using Facebook to market, you will most likely be missing out on the younger (under 30) population, who may expect that all experiences will have an associated Facebook event.

3. Get free training or help from community or government organizations

Organizations and even governments in cities across the nation offer training, printing services, and help writing grants to small nonprofits. The organizations usually have names like "Community" or "Neighborhood" in them. Your state Department of Environmental Quality or city Sustainability Office may be able to provide you with materials, supplies, printing, or other helpful resources. Find these organizations and departments and use them.

You can also contact a group with a similar purpose (such as a Transition group) in a nearby city to see if they will help you get started, either via sharing resources (like marketing materials or presentations) or simply by helping you find the local government and other associations that assist small nonprofits.

4. Co-sponsor, co-sponsor, co-sponsor

Does your 501(c)(3)organization have limited funds? If you are organizing an event, try to find co-sponsors with common interests who will help pay for food and supplies, provide free space, loan you equipment, or help you market your event. Co-sponsors may also be willing to serve on your event team or help design the event. Co-sponsoring not only offers a way to obtain resources and supplies, but also increases the "reach" of your marketing, as your co-sponsors will be invested in helping your event achieve a successful turnout.

Volunteers in your core team will likely have contacts at art galleries, local co-ops, government groups, other nonprofits, universities and schools, and religious organizations and schools, all of whom tend to be sympathetic to the needs of other small nonprofit groups. Ask for the ideas and contacts of your group, and take advantage of them.

5. Easy fundraising

Fundraising often invokes images of gala events. But if your organization only requires a little money, you might not need something so complicated. If you, your core team and co-sponsors can front the money needed to pay for a film screening, or for event food / alcohol, you might be able to recoup much or all of your investment via a donation jar, especially if it is labeled "Funding Future Events," or by simply charging a small fee ($15 - 50) for workshops. This type of small donation could meet your funding requirements until you need and are able to get grants, larger donations, or hold larger fundraising events.

6. In-kind donations

If you have already gathered a dedicated group of talented volunteers, they are usually eager to contribute their talents - writing, graphic design, web design, organizational skills, and teaching skills such as permaculture or canning.

Volunteers or board and committee members are also often willing to "potluck" events by loaning the equipment and supplies necessary (such as glasses and tableware, tables, audiovisual equipment and laptops, etc.) and bringing a small item such as food, wine or beer, flowers, etc. This strategy allows each person to provide a small expenditure to fund an event - rather than having to spend time and effort fundraising to make the event possible.



And, of course, your group can request in-kind donations such as food, plants, prizes for raffles, space for meetings and events, and services from the very local businesses that you are likely promoting. This generosity is usually rewarded with ample recognition during your events or on your marketing materials, as well as a nice thank-you card and, hopefully, patronage from your core team members.



Transition OKC



We have used all these strategies at Transition OKC to be able to hold a training, informational events, several film screenings, over a dozen presentations, several workshops and networking events, and fund an e-newsletter, website, Facebook page, brochures and other marketing materials, with only a few hundred dollars of out-of-pocket expenses (paid by our sponsor Sustainable OKC as well as donations from the local Sierra Club Cimarron Group).

As we grow, we may need greater funding to accomplish our goals and may need to dedicate more effort to obtaining grants or donations. But up until now, through the dedication of my co-chair Shauna Struby and the generosity and ingenuity of our core team of volunteers and sponsors, who have donated their time, talents, resources, connections, in-kind donations, and money, we have been able to focus our energy on grass-roots education, awareness and networking rather than needing to spend inordinate amounts of time fundraising or writing grants.

Viva la volunteer!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

EVOLVE Local Food Challenge

Oklahoma City chefs will be creating tasty local food treats as part of Sustainable OKC's EVOLVE juried art exhibition and fundraiser, and our first Transition OKC juried Local Food Challenge this Saturday, April 23rd. Six notable chefs will be judged by a panel of foodies as the public enjoys their local creations and votes for the People's Choice award.

Check out the EVOLVE / Local Food Challenge Facebook event or buy $25 tickets (or individual sponsorships!) online here or at the door.


Local art -- food -- fun

Art exhibition jurors
Randy Marks, Groundwork
Stephen Kovash, Istvan Gallery

+ Oklahoma City's first juried Local Food Challenge
Who will use the most local food? Chefs, caterers & restaurants compete for a $500 grand prize.

Local Food Challenge contestants
105Degrees
Chef Kurt Fleischfresser
Chef Kamala Gamble
Prairie Gypsies
Chef Ryan Parrott
The Wedge Pizzeria

Local Food Challenge Jurors
Carol Smaglinski, food editor, Oklahoma Gazette
Chef Jonathon Stranger, Ludivine
Linda Trippe, The Lady Chef

+ YOU vote for the People's Choice Aware $1 raffle ticket = 1 vote

tickets $25 @ the door or online @ www.sustainableokc.org

Local Food Challenge organized by Transition OKC, a program of Sustainable OKC, www.goinglocalokc.org.

Music by thespyfm.com

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Local Food Panel Discussion

I was recently asked to moderate a Local Food Panel Discussion for an Earth Day event. Supposedly, this was targeted for a group of people that weren't already knowledgeable about local food. It didn't exactly work out, but the preperatory work was already done, so.... here it is, in case you ever need to throw together such an event.

I'm known for being extremely prepared, so this includes the introductory text as well as questions for the panel experts. I recommend reading whatever speech you write out loud once or twice, as grammatically correct text doesn't necessarily sound right when spoken aloud. There are also some decent tips here on moderating panel discussions.

**********

Welcome to the XXX Earth Day Local Food Panel Discussion! Thank you for coming, and please take a moment now to turn your cell phones off. Kathy will be available throughout the panel discussion to take your written questions, so feel free to give your index cards to her and we will take several questions from the audience at the end of the panel.

We have a trio of knowledgeable, experienced and passionate local food advocates here today to discuss the meaning and importance of local food, the latest developments in the local food movement, and how you can find and use local food for the health of your family and the environment.

Before we begin, let’s take a quick survey of the audience: Who here feels very familiar with what the local food is all about? Who is here to learn more about HOW to buy and use local food? Who is here to learn more about WHY to buy local food?

To start this discussion, what is local food and where did this movement come from? In the last decade, the popularity of books such as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle, and films such as Super Size Me and Food, Inc., began inspiring citizens to question the dominance of the anonymous corporate food chain and to re-discover the value of fresh, humane, beyond-organic food grown and raised by local farmers and ranchers. Growth of local food since then has been phenomenal - the number of Farmer’s Markets has tripled nationwide since 1994, while our own Oklahoma Food Coop has increased from 36 members in 2003 to almost 4,000 today.

Local food has now taken a place as a key pillar of the sustainability movement, but the appeal is not limited to environmentalists. Fresh and healthy food appeals to mothers and fathers, physicians and ministers, and social justice advocates. Whether you lean left or right, whether you consider yourself liberal or conservative, we all have to eat. And to be healthy, we need to eat healthy food.

Our panelists today are Ryan Parrott, Stephanie Jordan and Chelsey Simpson. Ryan Parrott’s cooking career began at age 15, and he is now the head chef at the Iguana Mexican Grill, where he features local ingredients in many of his signature dishes. Ryan is also the founder and head chef at Table One, where all meals are designed around ingredients that are local and in-season.

Stephanie Jordan has a wide range of local food experience. She serves on the board of Buy Fresh Buy Local and as a local food advocate on the Sierra Club’s Executive and Conservation Committees. In her career as personal chef, she cooks primarily local food dishes sourced from the Farmer's Market and the ingredients available from Rose Ranch Jones. And most recently, she and her husband Doug began operating a transitional farm and ranch in Jones, OK.

Chelsey Simpson is the President of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. The OK Food Coop, started in 2003, delivers over $1 million per year of fresh local fruits, vegetables, grains, eggs and meat – straight from the farms to the consumers. For her day job, Chelsey works at the national Farm to School network, which connects schools with local farms in order to serve healthy meals and improve student nutrition. She recently returned from a trip to Vermont, where she explored their latest farm to school innovations.

Welcome to our panelists!

This first question is for all the panelists. What does local food mean to you and why do you support eating and using local food?

This next question is for Chelsey. What ideas or inspiration have you drawn from the local food movements of other cities and states? What are the missing links that we need here in Oklahoma City to grow and strengthen our local food system?

This question is for Stephanie. The average age of an American farmer is fifty-seven, and we need a new generation of farmers to replace the ones we are losing to retirement. What are some difficulties or obstacles you encountered as you began farming and how have you overcome them?

This question is again for all of the panelists. What do you see as the difficulties or downsides in using local food? This could be difficulties for farmers and ranchers, individuals, restaurants, businesses, etc.

This question is for any and all panelists. How does supporting local agriculture benefit our economy in Oklahoma City?

This question is for Ryan. You mentioned earlier that you use % local food in your restaurant. What changes would you have to see in our local food system infrastructure or supply in order to be able to double or triple that percentage?

For Stephanie and then anyone else. All the recent food movements - organic, vegetarian, school nutrition, and local food - have been accused of being elitist at some point. Is local food elitist? Why or why not?

What are the most important steps that our Oklahoma City or Oklahoma State governments could take to support the local food economy?

And finally, again for all the panelists, how would you recommend that someone new to local food begin? What one or two steps could they take?

And now we will take a few written questions from the audience.

Thank you again to both our audience and our panelists for your attention and participation, and thank you to our sponsor, XXX for organizing this panel. If you are interested in more information on local foods feel free to talk to the panelists after the session, take a Buy Fresh Buy Local guide, or visit the Sierra Club booth here at the Earthday celebration.

And now, if each panelist could share where they can be found online for further information. To start, I’m Christine Patton, co-chair of Transition OKC and facilitator of the Going Locavore local food networking and strategy group. We invite everyone to join us at Sustainable OKC's EVOLVE Local Food Challenge on April 23rd, which will feature creative in-season local food offerings from six local chefs. Transition OKC can be found at our website http://www.goinglocalokc.org/ and our Transition OKC Facebook page.

Ryan? ...Stephanie? ...Chelsey?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Force Multipliers

Most approaches to "solving" our climate and resource crises focus on technology: replacing fossil fuels with a different technology (solar, wind, ethanol, nuclear), or increasing the efficiency of our current technology. We focus on increasing the efficiency of things which would then be used in the same way - adding insulation to single-family homes, or doubling the efficiency of single-user cars that sit idle in the garage and parking lot for the vast majority of their lives, or harnessing renewable sources of energy that would then continue to be used unnecessarily and wastefully. While these solutions may marginally slow the velocity of an economic and energy descent, they can't seriously apply the brakes to the very unpleasant net energy freefall that may be in store for our society.


Among the various solutions proposed to our predicament, the most promising innovation may be social innovation. Over the past one hundred years, we have manufactured vast amounts of things - houses, buildings, infrastructure, cars, machines, equipment, supplies, computers, networks, and so on. But these things - our already built resources - are often underutilized, or inefficiently used, due to our social customs, norms, habits, and expectations, and the psychology of status, privacy, and entitlement.

In our current situation, as we face resource depletion and burgeoning environmental crises, with little time to prepare and in the middle of a financial and economic downturn, with incredible debt burden and deficits, we need to multiply the effectiveness and utility of the resources we currently have. With little money to throw at these problems, we need to multiply the effectiveness of our conservation efforts (usually acknowledged as the biggest "bang for the buck"). This could be immediately technologically feasible, but would require social force multipliers: new (or renewed) attitudes and norms.

A force multiplier, in military terminology, is a factor that dramatically increases the effectiveness of an item or group. Military examples include troop morale, reputation, training, and so on. So a social force multiplier in this context would be an attitude, social expectation, or behavior that multiplied the force of conservation or efficiency efforts - or made a conservation or efficiency policy possible. These social multipliers would need to essentially reverse the last century of developments that have made all our conservation and efficiency technologies moot via Jevon's Paradox.


For example, how could we immediately, drastically increase the energy efficiency of a home, with virtually no investment? Instead of spending thousands of dollars upgrading appliances and HVAC systems, insulating and weatherizing, just to achieve a 25% savings, we could instead almost double the energy efficiency of a home just by doubling the number of occupants (new attitude and behavior). Most homes built in the last two-three decades have adequate room to provide several families and kids with their own room, possibly their own bathroom, so families could even maintain a sense of privacy.

This would have other environmental and personal benefits aside from a reduction in electricity usage. Two families (or multiple singles) in one home could reduce a need for consumer goods, because they can be shared by the families, could reduce fuel use through carpooling, and might decrease out of pocket payments due to cooperation in activities like babysitting, gardening, and cooking, even cutting the monthly rent/mortgage payment in half. It can also be fun to have other people around, cooperating and hanging out, rather than an socially empty house with each inhabitant communing separately with their electronic devices.

Simple, cost-effective, yet so massively unattractive under our current value system and cultural expectations that it is only considered as a last resort, after savings have been run down, unemployment exhausted, and foreclosures completed. To join forces by moving in with parents, siblings, or others (except in certain "allowable" instances such as college roommates or aging parents) is to have become a failure, to give up hopes and dreams and positive social identity, to be subject to ridicule and potentially lose the chance to mate. It is also to encounter serious personality conflicts, the necessity of getting along with people you may not always agree with, and finding methods to resolve problems in a way that doesn't make someone the loser. Ask any intentional community - it's hard work.

Another example: without any capital expense or technological improvement, we can increase the efficiency of a car by a factor of three if we carpool. Simple, cost-effective, but unattractive under our current value system which prizes independence, convenience, "freedom," and status over cooperation and environmental stewardship. It's also difficult in neighborhoods where community has disappeared and many people don't know more than one person on the block. For many people, the cost savings even at $3.50 a gallon isn't worth the trouble of having to find and coordinate rides and put up with the quirks and schedule conflicts of their fellow riders.

Other simple and effective (yet currently unthinkable) measures could have even more widespread multiplier effects. For instance, a Post Carbon Institute article examined a reduction of the speed limit to 34 mph. A lowered speed limit has many positive effects, some obvious, and some not so obvious. First, an immediate savings in fuel and CO2 emissions, a reduction in traffic accidents, plus an increase in demand for better and faster public transportation. Not so obvious, a speed limit this slow would allow many people to feel safe when walking or biking - which is, of course, an almost 100% reduction in fuel and CO2 emissions.

Again, a measure that requires no new technology or investment, but massively unattractive in a world of our existing infrastructure of suburbs, exurbs, and norms that value and in fact, demand speed and convenience over health, safety, or environment.


These simple ideas are not new or original. Many of these measures were popular during World War II, and are still common in other parts of the world. Yet if they were quickly implemented in a widespread way, instead of being despised as the lunatic fringe, these types of changes would go a long way to addressing the crises we face in the short term and would buy us time and money to make other investments in a sustainable future. Still, it seems that they have little hope of execution until a fiscal necessity or severe and prolonged energy shock forces them upon us, individual by individual.
Instead of waiting for a crisis to force these changes upon us, kicking and screaming, could we use social force multipliers - new attitudes, expectations, and behaviors - to transform these "unthinkable drastic measures" of conservation and efficiency into positive social ideals? Could American Joe and Jane embrace community, cooperation, reciprocity, interdependence, social interaction, health, and a future for their children as primary values instead of material goods, money, status symbols, convenience, independence, privacy, and "freedom" of consumer choice, as their prime motivators? Could we make sharing and cooperating a point of pride instead of a mark of shame?

Behavioral change is the most difficult kind to create, which is why I believe it hasn't gotten a proper focus: it's easier to promote the next new technology, gadget, or green energy source than to suggest a fundamental change of expectations and attitudes. Behavioral change also has a low profit margin, if any at all, which automatically decreases the marketing budget for it. But the next new technology doesn't have nearly the multiplicative force of a social innovation. So let's consider putting our money and attention where it counts the most. Could it be time to make the unthinkable - thinkable? The undesirable - desirable? Could it be possible to turn our lemons into lemonade, and have a really good time doing it... so everyone else will want to join the fun?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Small actions amid chaos

Riots and toppling governments in the Middle East, states taking drastic measures to balance their budgets, oil and food prices rising. The implications of all this turmoil are enough to make me start breathing into a paper sack. I can't affect what happens in Libya or Wisconsin, but I can take action where I am, not only on my (semi-) urban homestead but also in my neighborhood and city.

Our neighborhood is beginning to organize, starting with small, simple actions like setting up a Facebook page, organizing a LitterBlitz, having regular meetings and newsletters with helpful information (weatherizing programs, useful resources, encouraging community action), and applying for trees for a tree-planting. We also hope to set up a neighborhood patrol. Eventually I hope that these baby steps with will result in greater community cohesion and trust that can be leveraged to build resilience.

Transition OKC continues to work toward supporting and expanding our local food capacity - the ability to feed ourselves. We have been facilitating meetings of a group of local food advocates for the past six months to help strengthen the existing network of local farmers and food entrepreneurs. Our TOKC team is also planning to host a Permaculture Design Course in the fall. I have wanted to take a full permaculture course for many years and I'm excited to finally have the opportunity.

On a smaller scale, a group of twelve of our friends is working to develop our own small gift economy. We have banded together to help each other become more sustainable and resilient through this extended recession, with more trouble on the horizon. We plan to support each other with growing, preserving and storing food, improving our homes, helping each other build our small businesses, and sharing and gifting items among ourselves. It's comforting to have this group to depend on during uncertain times.

Could chaos in petro-states lead to oil shocks, rapidly rising prices, economic shutdown, oil rationing? Could states slash budgets to the bone rather than raising taxes on wealthy corporations and individuals - condemning millions to homelessness, hunger and even worse? These are distinct possibilities, possibilities that we can deny, avoid, become angry or anxious and depressed, or do something about.

Although the scale and scope of changes that are coming are probably beyond our imaginations, even small actions can help ourselves, our families and communities deal with the future. We may never be 100% prepared, but any preparation is better than none. Any food storage, gardening practice, practical skill learning, any cash savings, is better than none. Any community building is better than none. You don't have to have a perfect plan or the perfect urban homestead or the perfect group to get started. Just get started - or take your plans to the next level. Today.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

7 Ways to use Greek Yogurt

Because I have potlucks to attend three or four times a month, and all my friends make food from local sources, I try to keep local ingredients on-hand ready to make potluck desserts and meals. One product that has saved my bacon many a time - when I fail to plan ahead - is Wagon Creek Creamery 's luscious Greek Yogurt, which can be incorporated into an amazing array of dishes.

At $6 for 32 ounces at the OSU-OKC Farmer's Market (and somewhat more through the OK Food Co-op), it's not too expensive - comparable or cheaper than the Fage brand available in stores here. Wagon Creek Creamery Greek Yogurt is made from milk from their own pasture-fed cows, which means that, according to many sources, it has a higher nutritional content - more CLA, Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins.



Taste tests conducted by the Okla-vore showed that the low-fat and full-fat versions had equivalent flavor; and the low-fat version has no bizzare fillers as commercial low-fat versions sometimes do. So don't be afraid to get the low-fat greek yogurt - it's quite tasty.



And it's incredibly versatile - substituting for both sour cream or unsweetened yogurt! Use it plain to substitute for sour cream, or add some honey or sugar to make it sweeter. Here are just a few ways that you can use this healthy dairy:



1. A main ingredient for dips - tzaziki sauce, raita, herb veggie dip, and pumpkin dip come to mind.

2. A tangy, tasty topping for pancakes, waffles, muffins, oatmeal, or granola.

3. An ingredient for creamy soups.

4. Makes a great snack combined with fresh or dried fruit, or used in a fruit smoothie.

5. A great base for sauces like creamy curry sauce or for creamy pasta dishes.

6. A general sour cream substitute in dishes like seven-layer dip.

7. A handy ingredient for desserts or dessert toppings (like Peach Yogurt Pie or Bulgarian Yogurt Cake, for example).



As you can see, it's vital to have some on hand at all times.

More ideas and recipes are available here. If you live in Oklahoma, you can order the Wagon Creek yogurt (and other locally made products) from the Oklahoma Food Cooperative or find it at the OSU-OKC Farmer's Market (open year round on Saturdays). In case you are curious as to my fascination with this product, I have not been paid or been given free Low-Fat Greek Yogurt to write this post. I just like the stuff, and want Wagon Creek to stay in business... by the way, their butter is pretty darn good too...

Monday, January 17, 2011

PurBlood sales drop amid criticism, competition

July 1, 2017 - - NEW ORLEANS --


PurBlood stocks took a tumble today after tepid sales during the second quarter and amid criticism of vampire elitism, falling $1.45 to close the day at $24.67 per share. Anthony Baker, blood activist and head of the non-profit organization Blood Equality, released this statement: "The very name PurBlood implies there is something wrong with the blood of some of us humans. We demand equal vampire treatment for all humans, regardless of what we eat, what we've been exposed to, what drugs we take, or what we've been doing for the last thirty years."

PurBlood spokesman Alexandar Conquel vigorously denied charges of enabling discrimination. "The PurBlood concept is that vampires can now accept donations from any consensual human donor, regardless of how polluted their blood may be. The PurBlood filter removes over 15,000 toxic chemicals from blood donations, including heavy metals, legal and illegal drugs, and even excessive cholesterol. It is an effective way to achieve blood that smells and tastes good, while eliminating the chemical additives inherent in modern human blood."

Some vampires credit the PurBlood filter with increasing their health and energy. London vampire Claudia van Huston says, "For decades, blood just tasted worse and worse and my energy level dropped to like, zero. Americans started to taste like McDonald's hamburgers left out in the car for a few days - with a side of ashtray. But now, it's like drinking blood from the Amish! I haven't felt this good since 1920. And my skin looks great."


Others report that the filter isn't worth the trouble. "With some vamps, the PurBlood filter is popular," reports 140-year old vampire Caroline Chamberlin. "I just can't stand it, though. Takes all the fun out of drinking, like drinking baby food, or a nutritional shake." She confides, "Plus, the blood donors don't like it either. A needle, hose, and blood bag is just not as intimate as a bite."

Some vampires who enjoy drinking in public have had difficulty adjusting to the PurBlood process. Nicholas Pellican, author of Tainted Blood: You've got to run away, shared his tips for vampires eating on-the-go. "Vampires don't have to go to Boulder, CO, to enjoy a night out on the town. I mean, a little tainted blood is not going to kill anyone. I just tell my readers, hey, when you get someone with bad blood, you can stop. You don't have to keep sucking to be polite. Thank them politely and just walk away."


The PurBlood filters also face stiff competition from the popular Blood Detective kit. Mattias Sandia, a Mexican vampire, uses the kit, which includes a health intake survey and a blood evaluation test that can be mailed off for an analysis, guaranteed to return in one day, or your kit is free. "Yeah, it takes a little bit of the spontaneity out of the whole process," says Mr. Sandia. "But these days, you have to be careful. I mean, really bloody careful."

Many vampires believe that these commercial products don't address the root of the crisis. Some groups, such as the Sanguine Conservancy, encourage humans to live together with the vampires as partners in green communities. Conservancy members live "off the grid" far from power plants and industrial manufacturing, grow organic food for their human blood-donors, and avoid products containing parabens, BPA, and other common chemicals. In exchange for enduring a thorough de-tox and adopting an eco-friendly lifestyle, human partners receive stipends, completely expense-free living, and guaranteed retirement.

Sanguine Conservancy spokesvampire Jessica Houston asserts that their approach is more beneficial for humans than a simple filtration product. "Essentially, we are helping humans reduce their body burden from what we call the "Toxic Trifecta:" toxic environment, toxic food and toxic lifestyle. Not only does this make you tastier, but also less prone to health problems, sickness and disease."



However, a powerful and well-funded new lobbying group, the Vampire Alliance for a Healthy Blood Supply, argues that lifestyle adjustments are not enough to protect humans from contamination. Robert Miller, head of the VAHBS, says "We are calling for strict regulatation of all new and existing man-made chemicals, especially the chemicals allowed in food and body products, and a clean-up of the toxic residues in the air, water, and soil. It's not only about what's good for us. After all, it's your blood, too."

PurBlood CEO Brendan Waters supports the proposed VAHBS regulation, but doubts that it will ever pass. "Legislators didn't regulate these extremely profitable toxins when child cancer rates increased. They didn't regulate them when the human breast milk studies came out, proving that mothers were passing on the poisons in their own bodies to their babies. If vampires think that Congress cares about their health, they've got another think coming. Then again, vampires do have the accumulated wealth of five thousand years. If anyone can make this happen through sheer brute force campaign donations, it's them."

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011: Living in interesting times

Some economists have high hopes for 2011. The stock market has broken 11,000 and many predict GDP growth. I don't necessarily see a rising stock market and GDP as indicators of economic health, especially since the vast majority of stock market gains goes to a very small minority of people. The stock market may zoom, GDP may grow, but what will be happening to the majority of people - considering the forces and trends that are in play? Maybe it's my pessimistic side, but I continue to have some major concerns about the economy:

1. Municipal, county and state debts and expenses


States and cities are having trouble meeting their financial obligations (read: paying the bills), even after an influx of federal stimulus funds and some budget cuts. State revenues plummeted by 31% in 2009 from $1.6 trillion to a total of $1.1 trillion. Some states, like Illinois, are six months behind on payments of over $5 billion.



The states also owe an enormous amount in health care and pensions to their retirees in the Boomer retirement avalanche that started recently. Collectively, public employee retirement obligations are underfunded by $1 trillion. Eight states (including my own, Oklahoma) are underfunded by over a third. How's that for conservative fiscal management?



On top of the plummeting revenues and unfunded liabilities, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our infrastructure a "D" in 2009, and civil engineers estimate that governments (including state and city) must spend $2.2 trillion over the next five years to shore up the condition of our roads, sewers, water treatment plants, dams, bridges, and other infrastructure.

How will states, counties and cities meet their obligations to pay current employees, finance a cascade of retirements for another 25 years, and maintain our infrastructure, which is over 50 years old in many places? One hint: Meridith Whitney predicts fifty to one hundred "sizeable" municipal bond defaults worth billions of dollars over the next few years.




In addition to the aforementioned defaults, choices may include declaring bankruptcy, deep cuts in services, increasing fees and taxes, and cutting wages and benefits of employees and pensions of retirees. And, of course, continuing to let the infrastructure deteriorate.

2. The housing market


Although home prices have fallen over 20% over the last three years, median home prices have not fallen to the long-term "trend line." Some analysts have predicted further value decreases of 20 - 40 - even 80%. With homes forming the bulk of the assets of the typical American family, further price falls are likely to cause pain across the board: consumer spending, municipal tax revenue, lack of mobility to move to new jobs, ability of retirees to fund their retirements. Etc.

Interesting twist: the legality of the foreclosure avalanche is also now under serious scrutiny. With banks pulling all sorts of blatantly illegal shenanigans - robo-signing, fake witnesses, failure to transfer ownership documentation, etc. - will they be able to kick people out of their homes? We'll see how this plays out in 2011.

3. Employment situation



The U3 unemployment figure is officially 9.8%, or 15.1 million Americans. After adding people who would like jobs, but haven't looked in the past four weeks, and people working part-time but who would like to work full-time, that figure transforms to U6 - 17%. Additionally, the mean length of unemployment is the highest since 1948 - 35 weeks. And do these numbers even attempt to measure the impact of the recession (which is reportedly now over) on the millions of independent contractors and self-employed who have seen their revenues cut in half?


The real stories are those of people struggling to hang on, of people who are losing jobs, homes, and hope, of people who don't yet realize that life may never again be what it was - for them or their children. These problems have always existed, but are increasing in number as the middle class becomes hollowed out.


Hiring may improve, but it would have to improve quite markedly to employ even a fraction of the people who lost their jobs during the recession along with the new graduates hunting for a career.


4. Energy peaking and prices


2010 was the year that the International Energy Agency reported that peak (conventional) oil happened back in 2006, but continued to predict that our energy demands would be met by a combination of other energy sources, most of which are of lower-quality, riskier and more expensive to extract.

Oil prices are up around $90 per barrel again. In my opinion, still too cheap for the value of the energy we get from oil, but possibly beginning to push the envelope of what our extremely dependent economy can finance. Will prices cool off again, or will sustained high prices result in another economic crash? High energy prices have often preceded major recessions and depressions, so stay tuned.



Coal, just as much as oil, is fundamental to our economic and household systems. The assumption that coal could continue to fuel our way of life (via electric cars, for example) is implicit in many of the plans for an energy transition, especially if that energy transition has to happen in the next five years, since solar and wind produce only a very small fraction of our total electrical capacity. Now China is reporting that they won't be able to continue growing their coal production, resulting in potential increase of Chinese coal imports. Peak coal is now on the horizon.


5. Food prices


Food prices are again reaching the highs set back in 2008 due to a series of crop failures caused by extreme weather around the world. In 2008, rocketing food prices caused riots and social unrest. What will happen this year?


Food prices might be more of a cause for concern for the world's "undeveloped" countries, but food banks in America are also hard-pressed to meet demand, and one in seven Americans, or 43 million people, are already on food stamps (aka SNAP).


Conclusion


All that, and I even managed to avoid mentioning the $14+ trillion federal deficit! To be sure, we are living in interesting times, and 2011 could be one extremely interesting year. The economic, energy, and environmental indicators that I follow are negative, and the leaders of our world are not responding in a constructive way. As Jared Diamond observed in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or to Succeed, it's our response to crises that decides our fates.


Rather than acknowledging the true extent of our predicament, our leaders are fiddling with the deck chairs while they hold their breath for a deus ex machina - hydrogen cars, dilithium crystals, alien saviors, economic revivals, miracles. Like the rest of the world, I don't know what surprises 2011 has in store for us. But rather than hoping for the unsustainable to miraculously become sustainable, or a benign government to sprinkle fairy dust all over us, we need to get ourselves in gear and start creating communities, food systems, and economies that will hold the center, come hell or high water.