A bumper crop of green living books

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Chelsey Simpson, Sustainability | Posted on 01-09-2009


by Chelsey Simpson

A free book is a good book.

One of the many perks of my job is that strangers often send me fun things in the mail. In the past I have received: pajamas, makeup, bobbleheads, a skunk skull, pomegranates and books. Lots of books. With the exception of the skunk skull — which I asked for … sort of — these items are sent unrequested by folks who hope I will review or publicize their product in the magazine I edit. I almost never do.

A number of the books, however, are right up my alley, and it occurred to me the other day readers of this blog might appreciate them as well. Some of the best sustainability books, including all but one of these, usually come from a publisher called Storey, so if you like what you see here, you might want to check out their full catalog. 

"Homegrown Whole Grains: Grow, Harvest and Cook Your Own Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Corn and More," by Sara Pitzer. The title pretty much explains the appeal, but it doesn't convey how beautiful and user-friendly this book is thanks to the simple illustrations gracing almost every page and charts and sidebars breaking information down into bite-sized portions. Each section takes a different grain from field to table, and there are even profiles of farmers and bakers to personalize the narrative.

"Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life," by Jenna Woginrich. Jenna is a 25-year-old homesteader by night and office worker by day who mixes personal reflection with helpful instruction in this beginner’s guide to sustainable living. While dog sledding as an alternative means of transportation might not be practical in Oklahoma, sections on raising chickens, beekeeping, gardening and dulcimer playing are useful.

"Down & Dirty: 43 Fun & Funky First-time Projects & Activities to Get You Gardening," by Ellen Zachos. With the exception of a couple projects, such as making elderflower champagne, this would be great book to work through with kids. The pictures are bold and bright, and the projects — from scarecrows to wild food and winterizing — are simple.

"How to Build Your Own Greenhouse," by Roger Marshall. Like the other Storey publications, the illustrations are what really make this book great. The information is detailed, but easy to digest.

"Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home: 52 Quick Meals to Cook for Family and Friends," by Martha Stewart. As evidenced by multiple dog-ears, this book might be my favorite of the bunch. It has made Martha my go-to recipe guru. The book is divided into seasonal sections, and each section is divided into 13 complete menus. The ingredients are mostly fresh and the recipes are easy. Adding to Martha’s sustainable street cred are references to farmer’s markets and instructions for stock making. It’s like she (and her minions) wrote the book with my weekly menu routine in mind!

"The Donkey Companion," by Sue Weaver. My love for this book is slightly irrational considering I have no plans to raise donkeys. Not many people could put together an exhaustive, 300-page guide to livestock care that manages to be fun and readable. Donkey lore and history, full-color photo sections, and helpful sketches throughout make it a page-turner. I especially love the sketches depicting the birthing process and one of a baby donkey in a tiny harness.

Happy reading! Do you have any sustainably-minded how-to books to recommend?

Meandering Thoughts from inside the Heatwave

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Family, Robbie White | Posted on 24-07-2009


by Robbie White

I live in an historic neighborhood, so I to think about our connection with those who lived before us in our home. I often think of how things were “back then." Our house was built in 1903. Most of our neighborhood came along in the decades around statehood. These past days have sparked many thoughts on how things were different before air conditioning. 

I think of trying to sleep in a house with no relief form the heat. Then, I look at the lovely windows in my home. If those windows were opened, a nice cross breeze would cool each room of this house. A walk around the outside with this thought in mind reveals yet another reason for nurturing that huge pecan tree that has shaded the house for so many decades. In fact, most of our bedrooms are shaded in one way or another by trees, or else they are on the north side. I wonder if this house had a sleeping porch, screened from bugs but open on all sides. These days, we have so many places to cool off during the days—the library, a movie theater, church, the mall, etc. But we still have to sleep at night, and I sleep better when it is cool. 

I recently read the book, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s. Electric air is a new thing for the residents of the Southern town. In one scene, the main character is trying to sleep in her parents’ plantation home, which had been built in the late 19th century. She eventually ends up on the back porch remembering how many nights she slept on a cot out there in summer. In this and other stories of days before air conditioning, the heat becomes a force that shapes the lives in the narrative. How close those people lived to the natural world. 

My kids and I hid from the heat most days this past week. We stayed inside where it was relatively cool. We watched movies, read books and worked around the house. We could be oblivious to the heat if we chose. It’s like that with a sustainable lifestyle. It’s easy to let the car idle in this heat because it is so uncomfortable or drive the car instead of bicycling on an errand. It is a challenge for me to step away from all that technology and be one step closer to the way things ought to be. 

How do you make your life more sustainable? In what ways are you closer to the natural world? Do you grow your own vegetables or compost your lawn and kitchen waste? Maybe you attended the local food fair at Harn Homestead last week? Or perhaps you support local farmers? I look forward to your ideas. 

Let’s celebrate our choices together on Fresh Greens!

Look how far we’ve come

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Consumption, Entertainment, Film, Robbie White, Television | Posted on 09-06-2009


by Robbie White

From paper to plastic to paper again, from tape to disc to digital files, Robbie takes a thoughtful look at how technology is changing the way we consume, hopefully for the better.

The other day I picked up a paper straw at the OKC Zoo to drink a coke-flavored Icee and was transported back to my childhood when paper straws were the norm. At first the paper straw was kind of annoying because I crushed the end, and unlike the plastic version, the paper straw did not return to its original shape. I turned the straw over and was careful not to crush the drinking end again — firmly resisting the urge to get a new straw — and this led to pondering differences in consumption since my childhood.

Consider for a moment television and movies: I was recently telling my kids about elementary school days in the late 1970s, when we watched movies and film strips sparingly at school. We filed into the old gymnasium at Neil Armstrong Elementary School in Bettendorf, Iowa, and watched nature films projected onto a huge screen using 16mm projectors. These films were carefully cared for by our teachers who shared them with the whole district. I can’t remember being told this specifically, but I always knew the films were valuable and had to be checked out in advance.

The early ‘80s saw the advent of Laserdisc, VHS and Betamax consumer video recording and viewing formats. As a young married couple, we started accumulating VHS tapes purchased or received as gifts. We were so excited to finally own a player! I recorded my favorite shows and even catalogued a few seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Our collection of VHS cassettes was impressive by the time DVDs became readily available in the late ‘90s. We still have a collection of favorites on VHS we can’t bring ourselves to part with, but we’ve slowly replaced many titles on DVD as they become available. Admittedly, we’ve created a small nostalgic but wasteful set of movies on both formats. The ten years that passed between the purchases does not excuse the waste.

In 2008, we discovered Apple TV which allows us to build a library digitally stored and accessible from any of our authorized devices. Apple TV is not perfect but it is getting better. We can rent a movie without using any resources at all (except money and electricity) for store visits or delivery by mail. We can purchase other media this way as well. There are no discs to scratch, no magnetic tapes to deteriorate, but there are some limitations with regard to licensing agreements, sharing media with others, and decades from now when we pass away, we wonder whether our digital media will become nothing but virtual debris.

The movies we love (and hate) create a story of their own about us. My unique set of movies is a way of describing myself. For example, I liked “The Departed,” but not “The Godfather;” the Keira Knightly version of “Pride and Prejudice,” but not the ‘80s version; and I love “iCarly” and “M*A*S*H,” but not one other TV sitcom in the intervening decades has engaged my attention. Much as the books we keep and reread over years say much about us, I wish to preserve our film and video collection for our children and grandchildren, or at least the essence of it.

The same questions apply to e-books. My husband and I both have Kindle readers. We love the experience of reading on this elegant device, and appreciate the fact this digital tool allows us to control our consumption so we can again enjoy reading daily newspapers without waste or mess. I am discovering periodicals again because of Kindle. I cannot, however, loan you a magazine, but I can send an email with an article or selected text, or if really necessary, print it in the old-fashioned way.

I see new media delivery and storage devices as a
n improvement over the consumption of paper, but I don’t know what is involved in the production of a Kindle device. Will we discover some toxic secret (such as mercury in compact fluorescent light bulbs)? Will new technology in a few years cause us to recycle outmoded Kindles for something more cutting edge?

While none of us knows what the future holds, what each of us can do in the present is consume less of this planet’s resources by making decisions based on the best knowledge available in the present, and by doing so, contribute to a better future.

Terra Preta

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Compost, Ron Ferrell, Science, Soil Management | Posted on 02-03-2009


by Ron Ferrell

Just how clever were those South American Indians? They were one of the first races on the planet to include the number 0 in their mathematical and monetary system, but now their population cannot be found in any resemblance to what the anthropologists say once flourished. It was thought that they overused their food infrastructure, but most likely the few who were left after war and disease brought by the Spanish invaders decimated their numbers were absorbed into other tribes in the area.

After years of archaeological research an unlikely native asset revealed itself. The research revealed a vast area of black soil that the natives had apparently created and used to maintain enormous cultures with fruit and food–an oasis in the jungles. Research indicates the key ingredient that fueled this composting marvel was charcoal. It appears that making charcoal was an intentional industry to help create the black Terra Preta.

Dr. Michael P. Byron states, in his book The Path Through Infinity’s Rainbow:

Terra preta soil is formed by incorporating biochar–locally produced charcoal–into ordinary soil. This activates the soil and enables it to permanently hold far greater quantities of minerals and nutrients than would otherwise be possible. This then sets into motion a complex and still not fully understood chain of events that include microorganism growths throughout the soil, which results in the soil becoming terra preta soil within several years.

This remarkable soil is found in abundance in the black earth were pottery shards and remnants, mixed in with other organic matter to create possibly the richest mass of intentional earth on the planet. Even National Geographic reports that terra preta is not to be found anywhere else on earth. 

In the September 2008 issue of National Geographic, "Where Food Begins," maps and illustrations of terra preta vs. normal soil are depicted from the central region of South America. (Can't find a link for the graphics, but they are on page 9293 of the magazine.)

Another thing about these illustrations that struck me is higher on the same map. The "fertility" chart graphics indicate a strip through the central United States that is rated as ‘highly fertile.’ It appears to me that the highly fertile area includes Oklahoma. A large area of unusually deep top soil is just north of us, in Kansas. This is great news for anyone trying to raise a garden in this part of the country. This may explain why folks living in southeastern Oklahoma are able to raise such prolific crops.

The latest issue of Mother Earth News also has an article of the ‘ancient’ soil building technique. They renamed it ‘char,’ but it apparently works as nutrients bond to charcoal for nutritional longevity.

So throw a dart and live where you will, but the aforementioned map indicates to me, that if you are truly interested in food growing potential, the central United States is the place to be. Tornados for sure, but no pesky hurricanes, desert or higher than average drought predictions.

With all the solid information and resources for making your own wonderful compost, soil enrichment is preferable to soil building any day of the week. I’m blessed with sandy loamy soil, so weed control and soil amendment are my main goals in building my garden spot.

Go here to find a contemporary recipe for Terra Preta. Mix up a batch and invite me over.

A Love Letter to the Written Word

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Events, Lindsay Vidrine, Recycling | Posted on 20-02-2009


by Lindsay Vidrine 

In this electronic information
age of text messages and *ehem* blogs, it seems like the written word
is dying, or at least getting reduced to short-hand-friendly acronyms.

I see this slow progression
in ways large and small every day. Traditional outlets for the written
word — like newspapers and books — are moving online, while at the
same time hand-written notes or letters have been replaced by e-mails
and texts.

The shift isn’t always a
bad thing, just look at this Fresh Greens blog. It provides an
forum for idea sharing and issue awareness that brings me together with
people I
may not have otherwise known. I can even understand the environmental
advantages of saving paper and ink by publishing an online newspaper
instead of a disposable hard copy.

All that said, I couldn’t
help but feel a personal loss recently when I asked my intern to write
a letter for me, and she formatted it like an email. I went back and

explained how the date, address, structure and tone should be, but in
turn received a look like I was a fossil that belonged in a museum.

When I later mentioned my evening
plans included a book club discussion, I solidified my status as a relic
in her eyes. While I may have evoked the pity of youth, I couldn’t

help but reciprocate the same emotion. If this loss is being felt in my journalism-based
field, imagine the erosion other academic departments are facing.

This sad realization led me
to seek refuge in the one place that my hope for the written word is
consistently restored — the public library. My love for the library
started early when my mom used to take my sisters and I to go pick out
books as a treat when we were looking for summ
er entertainment. We spent
hours there, carefully making our selections and checking out the maximum
number of books allowed.

I now live near another very
busy library and gain great personal joy in seeing how well-used the
facility, books and programs are by the community. It attracts all ages
and demographics, which makes t
he people watching and the potential
for community interaction unparalleled. The library system is a tried-and-true
example of how recycling can be a symbiotic relationship and never
ceases to remind me how connected people are to the written word.

If you share the same sentiment
for the library but find yourself wanting to purchase gardening, cooking
or other books as reference, you may want to check out the Friends
of the Library
sale on February 21-22 at the state fairgrounds.
It’s the perfect place to purchase
must-have books for your personal library, plus music, movies and even
gifts for others. In true symbiotic fashion, the gently used items are
cheap and proceeds benefit the Metropolitan Library System.

Getting To Know My Inner Little Red Hen

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Food and Drink, Locavore, Shauna Lawyer Struby, Tips | Posted on 12-01-2009


by Shauna Lawyer Struby

I have a confession – I’ve never been very good at making yeasty-type bread. Try as I might, bread-making efforts in my 30-plus years of cooking have resulted in heavy loaves that more closely resemble bricks. I’ve suffered great guilt about my lack of yeasty prowess, and over the last few years, as sustainability has turned our minds to learning how to do things for ourselves again, or ‘reskilling’ as it is sometimes called, I’ve dreaded the day when the next thing to do on my self-sufficiency to-do list would be learning to make bread.

Praise to the Goddess of Yeasty Muses, fortunately for me a couple of bright folk, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, of Minneapolis, found a way to make bread that makes my bread-making deficiency moot. For about the past three weeks I’ve been using their Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method (also featured in the December 2008/January 2009 issue of Mother Earth News magazine). As Hertzberg & Francois note, the secret to their method is amazingly simple. Here’s what Hertzberg says about it in the Mother Earth News article:

“It all came down to one fortuitous discovery: Pre-mixed, pre-risen, high-moisture dough keeps well in the refrigerator.”

As a result of their discovery, I am happy to report I can now make beautiful, crusty loaves of bread that look like they belong on the cover of Bon Appetit magazine. Beyond the looks, the bread is moist on the inside and has that delicious multi-dimensional flavor so prized in bread-making. As an added bonus, the dough which is mixed and stored ahead of the baking process, can be used to quickly make pizza crust and a whole host of other delectable meals, breads and pastry delights, making it a great kitchen aid for busy folk with little time for meal prep.

So far I’ve only experimented with the bread and pizza, and at every holiday outing where I lugged either item, both brought rave reviews. But here’s the real icing on the cake (uh, bread) – the method’s authors estimate the cost is about $0.50 per loaf.

The method is easy, simple and really does take very little time. There’s no kneading or punching. The five minutes a day refers to the actual time you’re actively involved with the dough shaping and getting it ready to bake. The bread is easily made with equipment any kitchen has on hand, although I did purchase a food-grade container to keep my pre-mixed dough in the refrigerator, and my guess is the recommended baking stone and pizza peel would take the final product to the next level. The article in Mother Earth News gives you the basic recipe and process but there’s also a book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking, which goes into much greater detail with tips and techniques, and a bundle of recipes for peasant loaves, flatbreads and pizzas, and enriched breads and pastries.

 To add some sustainability to this process, last week I took organic hard red winter wheat berries I purchased from GOOrganic Whole Wheat through the Oklahoma Food Cooperative and ground the berries in our coffee grinder using the espresso setting which rendered a fine wheat flour. I doubt this will work for grinding large quantities of flour long-term, but until I settle on a wheat mill, it will do.

And about the Little Red Hen – I think she was on to something. Eating this bread is not only a pleasure-filled tasting sensation, but it brings a dimension of wholeness, comfort and security to our lives. Comfort in the aroma and taste of baking bread, wholeness and security in knowing our bread is made from healthy ingredients. Here’s to finding your own inner Little Red Hen.

Do You Have Post-Petroleum Stress Disorder?

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Current Affairs, Energy, Shauna Lawyer Struby, Tips | Posted on 17-11-2008


by Shauna Lawyer Struby 

"And so I’ve come to conclude that all the predictions—both good and bad—tell us absolutely nothing about what is possible. Trends and events can only relate to what is probable. Probabilities are abstractions. Possibilities are the stuff of life, visions to act upon, doors to walk through. Pessimism and optimism are both distractions from living life fully.”

            —Tom Atlee, author of Crisis Fatigue and the Co-Creation of Positive Possibilities, Co-Intelligence Institute

Over the last couple of months, in private conversations with friends, I've increasingly heard these words, "I feel overwhelmed," usually uttered in hushed tones within the context of discussing the constant drumbeat of our Trifecta of Emerging Crises—economic tsunami, peak oil, and climate change. The sentiment that usually follows is, “It’s scary.”

The comments come from people with a wide range of perspectives in all walks of life. Regardless of who they are, I can relate in this age of unending what-ifs—what if there’s a global pandemic, a catastrophic interruption in oil supply, food supplies, nuclear terrorist attack, hungry hordes of people roaming the streets. I’ve watched my mind jerk from one worst case scenario to the next over the last few years, in fear for my life and that of my children, spouse, family and friends, trying to decide whether to run for the hills or hunker down and hope for the best while refining and tweaking my lifestyle for whatever comes my way. 

Plenty of magazines, books, websites, and experts give us advice about how to downsize our lifestyles, live more simply, or just survive, but trying to manage this humongous data stream from experts and pundits, some days my mind just shuts down. The reality: the enormity of transitioning from an instant gratification lifestyle baked in cheap energy and topped with unsustainable supplies of credit is a big task comprising not simply changing a lifestyle but changing the heart and mind as well. Therein lays the challenge. As author Rob Hopkins notes in The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience, “ … the process of deciding to change and then changing … is more subtle and sophisticated than that.”

Untitled2 Hopkins writes that enabling change has always been the Holy Grail of the environmental movement, but that it’s remained frustratingly elusive. His theory: we’ve failed to engage people on a large scale,  and certainly not on the scale needed to address peak oil and climate change, and not because we don’t understand the problems. We do! Rather, we never really understood change, how it happens, what it entails.

In our well-intentioned push for change, we try to engage people in action by, as Hopkins notes, “ … painting apocalyptic visions of the future as a way of scaring people into action,” with the result being many people experience what Hopkins calls ‘post-petroleum stress disorder.’

This stress disorder can exhibit itself in a variety of ways—see if you recognize any of these symptoms below (more on each the symptoms here):

  • clammy hands or nausea and mild palpitations
  • a sense of bewilderment and unreality
  • an irrational grasping at unfeasible solutions
  • fear
  • outbreaks of nihilism and/or survivalism
  • denial
  • exuberant optimism
  • the 'I always told you so' syndrome

How can we cope with change, with the “dark nights of the soul” within our own hearts and minds? Hopkins recommends that we:

    1)    Be aware of the feelings and realize they are natural.

    2)    Seek to generate what Chris Johnstone calls “inspirational dissatisfaction,” where the feelings generated motivate us to make changes in our lives. Acknowledge the change we want to see starts with us, and see this as an opportunity to rethink basic assumptions.

    3)    Finally and probably most importantly, don’t rush it! Change occurs in increments or stages. Take some time to sit with awareness and realizations as they are revealed to you. It may feel uncomfortable, but as Hopkins notes, within the feelings lies “a call to adventure,” one that with time, you will come to see as a positive transition in your life.

I encourage all of us, myself included, to help ourselves and others by:

    1)    Checking out The Transition Handbook and at the very least reading the chapters covering the psychology of change.

    2)    Harnessing the power of a positive vision (see chapter seven of Hopkins’ book).

In his book, Hopkins includes a long quote from Tom Atlee. I opened this post with part of that quote and include more of the same to close it. His words eloquently speak to this pivotal and hopeful place where we find ourselves.

“I think the emerging crises transcend such false end games like optimism and pessimism … I think the call is to act like a spiritually healthy person who has just learned they have heart disease: We can use each dire prognosis as a stimulant for reaching more deeply into life and co-creating positive change.”

For more information on Transition Culture, Rob Hopkins and The Transition Handbook, go here.

Eating Together, the Locavore’s Call to Community

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Community, Family, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Locavore, Robbie White | Posted on 31-10-2008


by Robbie White

I want to share one of my favorite authors, Tilden Edwards. His book, Living Simply Through the Day was published originally in 1978 and revised in 2007. He brings together Buddhist and Christian teachings advocating for a simpler way of living, attentively and intentionally.

“How we eat is a barometer of our sense of life at the moment.” —Living Simply Through the Day by Tilden Edwards

Tilden Edwards’ words on eating in his guide to simple living in the contemplative tradition remind me anew why I teach table manners to my children and why we try to sit down to a meal together whenever possible. He affirms that one’s satisfaction in a good meal is not to be judged by the abatement of physical hunger alone. A meal should satisfy the need for meaningful fellowship and spiritual connection as well as filling the empty stomach. Consider breast-feeding, which is, of course, the ultimate meal experience, uniquely reserved for infants. Mother and baby spend countless hours of nursing gazing into one other’s eyes, feeling heartbeat to heartbeat and skin to skin. Mother’s milk is perfectly designed to meet the nutritional needs of the baby. The baby learns trust in the spiritual bond created in the nursing relationship. And it is the ultimate sustainable meal!

Alas, eventually we must look beyond mother’s milk for our sustenance.  However, the most basic meal can be as satisfying. I remember one chilly fall day after a friend and I had spent the afternoon leading a bunch of high energy Camp Fire Kids in a meeting at my house. I had made a pot of beef stew for my family and it was simmering in the crock pot. She was trying to gather her tired and hungry kids and head home. I invited her to sit down and eat before heading out into the cold. Together we enjoyed a delightful meal of homemade stew, rolls, and cold milk. I don’t even remember the recipe I used for the meal. We didn’t have fancy dishes or candles or linen napkins, but the food was hot and filling, the company joyful, and the hospitality blessed us all, givers and receivers. I recall that evening as one of my favorite times. My friend headed home with her kids peaceful, smiling, and full.

“[The] sacramental quality [of eating] easily is blurred in the way food comes to us day by day: the impersonal mass packaging of a supermarket, the rush of a fast food carry-out, the press to sell you more.” —Living Simply Through the Day byTilden Edwards

Edwards’ comments on mass marketing of food encourage me to keep seeking out more meaningful ways of provisioning my household. The Oklahoma Food Coop [http://www.oklahomafood.coop/] is a great help with this.  Many resources exist to find locally produced foods for our tables and products that sustain the environment. Many of them have been mentioned by contributors on this blog. And if you haven't learned about Splendid Table's year long experiment in eating locally, Locavore Nation, check it out soon!  It will challenge you to try just a little bit harder.

One last thought from Edwards on gardening, which is the most sure method of eating locally:

“Growing food allows us to participate from the very beginning: planting and watering a seemingly dormant seed or tiny plant, watching it grow in to maturity, picking this little miracle and using it to nourish our bodies.  Such a process allows us to be a part of that amazing cycle of life.”

As the growing season tends toward autumn, I can only dream of spring. For now, I think I will plant some herbs inside to keep myself connected to the miracle and keep reading Fresh Greens for words of wisdom from my fellow bloggers!

Nature’s Brutality in the Poetry of Mary Oliver

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Kristen McCarty, Poetry, Religion | Posted on 20-10-2008


by Kristen McCarty

"That God had a plan, I do not doubt.
But what if his plan was, that we would do better?"
                                    -Mary Oliver

In Mary Oliver's world of words and visions, Mother Nature is no comforting dowager. Brutal and at times devastating, nature in all her forms is as dangerous as it is inspiring, but that doesn't keep the poet from being fiercely protective of it.

Instead of trying to explain away the harsh realities of life as many poets and theologians have done before her, Oliver marvels at the fittest, who survive, and the death of their fallen prey. Admiring the lives of both predator and prey, she wrestles with which one she should feel sympathy for. Always present in her poems is the pull to understand a multitude of perspectives, which is a poet's highest work. We read poetry for many reasons, but to read Mary Oliver is to discover new idea after new idea, beautifully and originally phrased. These ideas change the way we think about ourselves and creation—enhancing the complexity of things often oversimplified.

She maintains that even in places of death, and aging, and destruction in the natural world, God whispers of transcendence and meaning. Loneliness and even helplessness are places where God keeps watch. Perhaps the state of our minds and souls, mirrors the state of Nature itself. We are hurt, misguided, lied-to and lying, we seem to be diminishing even as we rise, and all of this is a place where God waits for us to step forth—doing the right and holy thing for ourselves and others and the world around us.

Nature, who both hurts and heals, full of places in the wild where the beautiful crying forth of the ideas of God suffuses every moment. Lucky for us, the poet transcribes some of these ideas for us in her writing, but in Mary Oliver's world, the greatest crime against God would be to neglect to live and appreciate the natural world around us.

The Other Solar Panel

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Energy, Locavore, Organic Gardening, Ron Ferrell, Tips | Posted on 06-10-2008


by Ron Ferrell

Now that creating and harvesting sustainable energy is on many people’s minds, it seems to me that we need to rethink what solar energy is, can be, and how simply the average person can create and harvest it. The most obvious method of harvesting solar energy is the solar panel, a photovoltaic panel that converts the sun’s energy to the electricity needed to power our homes and hopefully someday our vehicles.

Most homeowners can’t afford to retrofit their home with solar panels or wind turbines in an effort to go green and generate the power to save money and the environment, so is that the end of the conversation for the vast majority of people on the planet? Perhaps, but our ultimate goal is still to find an affordable way to convert the sun’s energy into energy we can use at home. 

The electricity produced with solar and wind energy is great but expensive, and someone else far away owns it. The grid delivers energy produced by wind, coal, natural gas and fossil fuel, but we’re all on one giant extension cord and to me that spells potential disaster.

If we look at the amount of money the average person spends on fuel for the home plus the amount of money spent on food, it soon adds up to an almost insurmountable deficit for the budgets of many families. Both are expensive, but can we actually do anything to reduce these costs at home? Both the cost of food and fuel are rapidly on the rise and the common denominator for both is fuel…fossil fuel.

So what if we could figure out a way to drastically reduce the amount of money the average homeowner is spending for utility bills and food costs? We have already ruled out solar panels and wind turbines for the average homeowner’s budget. They can replace light bulbs in the home, weatherproof, insulate, and perform typical ‘green’ measures to save energy and money, but they most likely are not able to generate any of their own power without a large investment in solar or wind.

However, there is a cheap, readily available, and totally renewable solar panel that has been around for millions of years. This solar panel won’t change your utility bill, but it will drop your food bill tremendously. That solar panel is the LEAF, an edible solar panel! 

While reading Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman, it dawned on me that leaves are quite simply solar panels converting sunlight into energy. FOOD ENERGY!  Food IS energy, and that is why calories are measured in BTU’s. 

Mr. Coleman refers to seeds as ‘stored energy,’ energy that can be saved, eaten or used for commerce. This energy in the form of seeds and leaves is essential for animal and human life and can be produced quite cheaply, precisely where we live, alleviating some of the burden from high food and gas prices by erasing trips to the grocery store.

So rather than stress out over what we should be doing to lessen the demand on world energy sources and find that we can’t do much without spending great sums of money, I encourage everyone to invest a tiny amount of money in packets of seeds and plant a garden. Plant a vegetable! Grow some food, reduce your food bill and your stress level over not being ‘green’ enough. Grow your own edible solar panels!