A bumper crop of green living books

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

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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?

Turning sustainable ideas into reality: Jim Horne’s very determined green revolution

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Community, Farming, Nature, Organic Gardening | Posted on 10-07-2009

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by Chelsey Simpson

Access Tour Alumni Association 2007 Jim Horne and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture have long imagined agriculture with an entrepreneurial spirit and holistic ideal that transcends conventional agriculture and big industry. Their creativity and innovation introduced a quiet and growing revolution in Oklahoma, and while they’ve taken their lumps from the powers that be, they’ve doggedly continued to help family farmers keep their farms and enriched Oklahoma in ways too numerous to compile here. This past June, Fresh Greens contributor, Chelsey Simpson, interviewed Horne for an article in Oklahoma Living magazine. She graciously shares a portion of that interview here.

More than 20 years ago, Jim Horne made a decision for which he was ostracized and temporarily blacklisted by mainstream agricultural institutions across Oklahoma: he decided to put the “sustainable” in sustainable agriculture.

When Horne made the unpopular decision to change the Kerr Center’s official name to the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture  in 1985, he took the organization, and perhaps even the state, in a new direction. From their farm and office in Poteau, the center conducts research, produces educational materials, hosts field days and offers direct support to farmers, all in the pursuit of their mission “to assist in developing sustainable food and farming systems.”

On a rainy morning in early June I sat down with Jim Horne to talk about the role he and his Kerr Center teammates have played in shaping Oklahoma’s agricultural landscape.

When did your thinking start to shift toward sustainability?

The change started in the 1980s for me because there were thousands of farmers who went bankrupt in the ‘80s, and these were not bad farmers, these were good farmers who were going bankrupt. There were cracks in the system, and I could see that we had built an agriculture system around agribusiness, and the [crop] prices would not pay for the inputs we were using. It seemed to me that there had to be a better way to farm using the tools of nature instead of just using solutions that you had to buy.

My father passed away at 42 years of age from acute poisoning from using chemicals, and that probably had a bigger impact on me than I realized. KerrDSC_0298

I understand that it created quite a bit of turmoil and that members of the board even resigned because you added the word “sustainable” to the Kerr Center’s name. 

Why was it unpopular? How could you be against it? To make something endure forever—that only makes sense. But it carried a connotation that a lot of Oklahomans felt was a threat to the funding of their institutions from agribusiness if we promoted farming that involved a lot less chemicals. We were singled out as a group of weirdos and naive tree-huggers because we started the process of asking, “How do we make sense out of farming this way?”

My approach was to ask, “How do you meet the needs of this generation without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs? How do we keep from destroying our ecological capital?” That was a pretty foreign thought for most people.

Professionally, it was probably the hardest time in my life. I really felt ostracized for this belief, and it was a belief that I wasn’t totally sure of. I kept struggling with how to implement farming with nature. That’s when I came up with the Eight Points of Sustainability, which is all in the book [I co-wrote with Maura McDermontt.] I started breaking it down into what would make sense to a farmer.

What kind of results did you see? Did the methods you promote manage to save any farms that were in bankruptcy?

I know it managed to save a few farms, but I can’t really say how many. So many farms were so far gone by the time we started this.

We have to move to a different style and we need our universities to do research to help us move us in this direction. We have been building that concept among everyone that we don’t want to go through this [mass bankruptcy] again—we have too few farmers already. Sustainability is a necessity, not a luxury.

KerrDSC_0320 How financially viable is the kind of farming you promote?

The whole idea is to keep every drop of rain that falls on your farm, on your farm. The waste from one enterprise—pigs or cattle or chickens—is used as fertilizer in another enterprise, and you use clover to smother weeds. That’s the kind of research that we are looking at and trying to promote because it reduces what you have to buy off the farm, and farmers who are doing it, yes, they are finding profitability. Yields are probably not quite as high, but we have less invested.

How can the general public encourage sustainable agriculture?

I think consumers are the farmers’ best friends.

We have this giant agricultural industrial system that is a worldwide competition, and only large, large farmers can really compete in that system. For a small farmer to compete in a global system is a disaster. What we can do is compete in a local system, and I think that is what is overlooked.

We have lost so many rural communities, particularly in western Oklahoma. What people are realizing now—and I think it is why sustainability is becoming more popular—is that having a neighbor is valuable.

A common argument against these methods is that if everyone farmed this way we couldn’t feed the masses. I’m curious what your response is when you hear that.

The typical response is that if we farmed sustainably, half the world would starve. My answer is that right now we produce enough calories in the world that every person could have enough to eat—it is all about political strife and corruption. My take is—and I have thought a lot about this—is it our responsibility to feed the world, or is it the responsibility of each community to feed their own? I think that is really what we need to think about. KerrDSC_0355

How do we equip people, whether they are in China or Oklahoma, to create their own local food system and how do we minimize the importation of stuff?

What makes you believe so deeply in sustainability and local food? 

I think the point that it comes alive to me is realizing how interconnected we are as humans and in nature. I think that God created everything with a purpose, and when we decide that we don’t need this or that we have gone awry.

We can’t impair our systems just so
we can live affluently today. It is better to work with those systems, and that’s what sustainability is all about.

A longer version of this article is available online.

Show and Tell

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Food and Drink, Locavore, Tips | Posted on 01-07-2009

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By Chelsey Simpson

You know how it feels the first time you visit a new grocery store—the way nothing you need is where you want it to be and shopping take twice as long because you wrote your list according to the order of your usual store, and that just doesn’t work here? And if you love the new store—if every item calls to you from the shelf like a beautiful, exotic stranger—you will inevitably spend way too much time and money. If you take one of those hot little strangers home (perhaps it called to you from beneath the shower of the produce mister, “buy me, steam me, eat me with butter!”), you will inevitably find that you have no idea how to actually prepare it, and the odds are very good it will sit on your counter and rot.

 

I think the switch to eating local can be a lot like this for many people. If anything, it is far more daunting than an unfamiliar supermarket. First of all, the system itself is different. Instead of aisles there are farmers’ market stalls (which usually only take cash), or in the case of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative there is a website to navigate (and it is helpful to have a PayPal account). Unlike at the grocery store, where every can of beans opens with the same tool, new skills are sometimes required to make the most of local food. Or maybe I shouldn’t say “new” skills, but rather forgotten skills like cooking with whole chickens, baking bread and canning.

 

I have suffered the confusion myself—and I am still learning—but by and large I have converted, so I thought I would take this opportunity to do a little show and tell in hopes that someone out there will find it helpful. First, the “show.” Cropped food

 

A few weeks ago my friend Tricia posted two links on her blog that were very revealing. One is a photography project showing the interior of people’s refrigerators and the other shows families with all the food they typically eat in one week. I was still thinking about the post when I got home from the farmers’ market that week, and I was inspired to take a photo of my own daily bread, which you can see on the right. But first I had to determine what I was going to eat that week beside just the stuff I bought during my shopping trip.

 

I think that one of the keys to eating local is meal planning, so ever weekend I follow the same steps:

1) I take stock of what I have on hand that needs to be used before it spoils;

2) I think about what I have going on during the week that might take away from my cooking time;

3) I think about what is in season and what I might be able to get from the farmer’s market;

4) I make a list of all my meals on one side of a scrap of paper and a shopping list on the back.

There are only two people in my household, so I have to consider the fact that I will have leftovers, and I also plan to have extra food we can take to work for lunch.

 

Because local food (especially meat) costs more sometimes and comes in a more whole form (bones, skin, etc.), I always plan meals so that I can get the most mileage out of everything. For example I cook with whole chickens, but a lot of recipes call for boneless, skinless breasts, so sometimes I cut just the breast meat off of the bird and use it in a stir fry or pasta dish one night then save the rest of the bird to cook whole in the oven, slow cooker or on the grill. Then, if I am really feeling frisky, I use the bones and scraps to make stock. I am afraid I am making this sound like a lot of work, but it isn’t really. And sometimes I just throw a whole bird in a slow cooker for a few hours and call it a day; there’s nothing wrong with that!

 

So here was my meal plan for the week, roughly in order by day:

  • Steak fingers with new potatoes and sauteed Swiss chard
  • Buffalo burgers for a food co-op volunteer party
  • Pizza with tomato sauce, mushrooms, asparagus and cheese (salad on the side)
  • Salad with asparagus, feta cheese, sunflower seeds and green onions
  • Egg frittata with new potatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, cheese and greens (salad on the side)
  • Buttermilk pancakes or waffles for dinner with fruit salad if I feel lazy one night
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as needed

If you look closely at the photo, you can probably make out most of the ingredients. The local things are generally on the right-hand side of the photo, including some Swiss chard from my church’s community garden (isn’t chard beautiful?), andthe grocery items are on the left. Yes, I buy bananas; I like them. And usually we eat a little more meat than this, but somehow this week my husband let me get away with serving him several vegetarian meals.

 

If I had to guess, I would say this is about $100 worth of food, but we won’t eat it all in a week; a lot of it, like the PB and jelly, will live to see another meal plan. According to this estimation, about two thirds of the money I spent stayed local.

 

So there you have it—a fast and dirty look at one week of local eating! It would be fun to see other people’s weekly menus in the comments section. How do YOU make local work?

Sustaining Sustainability

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Food and Drink, Television | Posted on 06-03-2009

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by Chelsey Simpson

When I say I was born a conservationist,
I’m not bragging. Conserving things–all kinds of things–has been a
lifelong obsession of mine, and not always a healthy one. Guilt and
anxiety are often the cause or result of my efforts.

As a child I was prone to hoarding and saving, always afraid
of wasting anything. Stickers sat untouched in my sticker book, candy
wrappers were squirreled away for their decorative potential as
wallpaper and Easy-Bake oven cake mixes were rationed. On the other
hand, dolls I didn’t play with seemed to cry out to me, making me feel
bad for owning something I didn’t use.

At the age of four I remember carefully separating my meals
into two portions: one for me and one for the African child my parents
“adopted” through a charity program. Luckily, they soon explained that
we were only sending money, not half of all our cornbread and potato
soup.

I have no explanation for my habits other than the fact
that I was very impressionable. I still remember a Sesame Street skit
about water conservation in which a boy’s wasteful habits threaten to
leave a fish on dry land. I still think about that fish when I brush my
teeth at night.

I
have also considered the fact that I might be the reincarnated soul of
someone who lived through the Great Depression, but that is neither
here nor there.

I remember making one misguided attempt to throw caution to
the wind and use (perhaps even waste!) all of something in one sitting.
Unfortunately, the thing I chose was green food coloring. As a prank in
honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, I offered to cook dinner, then added
green dye to everything: the hot dogs, the chili, the buns, the spinach
and even the glasses of water. My heart told me I shouldn’t use the
whole bottle on one dinner because that would be wasteful, but I
pressed on, gleefully ignoring all the voices in my head for one
triumphant moment!

These days I wouldn’t add margarine to my food, much less
green dye, but I can’t say I’ve mastered the balancing act between the
guilt of consumption and living a satisfying life. There are so many
aspects to living sustainably and responsibly that it is easy to become
overwhelmed. Some days I am at peace with the fact that sustainable
food is the main direction I focus my energy, but other days I feel
guilty that half of my clothes are from Old Navy, and I haven’t
properly winterized my house. I probably think too much about small
things, like whether I could have fit two more plates into the
dishwasher before I ran it and how many times I have to open my fridge
in the coarse of fixing dinner.

I am still searching for a
sustainable approach to sustainability, a peaceful lulling of my 1930s
soul. I want to respect the Sesame Street fish and the African baby
without letting them take over. At least these days my food is green in
an entirely different way.

New Law, Good News for Area Pets

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Current Affairs, Local Government, Local News, Pets, Waste Management | Posted on 19-01-2009

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by Chelsea Simpson

My friend Tracy strikes a pose in front of my swiss chard. She has a new home now, but last summer she and six other dogs were found abandoned at a home. Thanks to irresponsible breeding practices, Tracy is deaf and has vision problems.
Sustainability in Oklahoma City took a small, unexpected step forward last week. As of January 15, the city will pay for the spaying or neutering of any dogs and cats that wind up at the city shelter, even if their owners come to claim them. Previously, owners hoping to take their lost pets home were required to pay a fee to cover the costs associated with caring for the animal at the shelter. But now owners can have that fee waived if they provide proof that their pet has been altered or agree to have it altered at the city’s expense.

Hopefully the fee waiver will result in more owners claiming their pets, which will save the city in boarding and euthanasia costs, and more pets being altered, which will eventually lead to a decrease in the overall population of unwanted pets.

That last point is where sustainability comes in: unwanted pets. According to an article in the Journal Record last month, Oklahoma City euthanized 17,654 dogs and cats last year. That is waste, my friends, at its most grotesque. I fret about throwing away all kinds of things—leftover potatoes, socks with holes, wrinkled printer paper. I also realize that we are a wasteful society, consuming too much on many fronts, but the lives’ of living things? That stretches wastefulness beyond acceptable limits.

Let’s remind ourselves what we are talking about here because I grew up on a farm, and I eat meat. I know the argument, and it goes like this, “Dogs and cats are animals, and just like livestock they are here to be used by humans. If that’s how you feel, then use them—let them warm your lap and welcome your visitors and perform more noble tasks, like search and rescue or bomb sniffing because that’s what they were bred for. There is no need to breed new animals so long as thousands of them are being euthanized. To my knowledge, no one kills cattle just to make room for more cattle; we kill them for a purpose. Their slaughter isn’t simply a matter of convenience.

Yet more dogs and cats continue to be produced because we keep buying them. Then we throw the old ones away. So as we move toward sustainability with our recycled pop cans, hybrid cars and local food, let’s not forget our loyal companions. “Recycle” a pet from the shelter. Avoid creating “new waste” by spaying and neutering. And support new legislation and rules like the one that took effect last week.

Why Food?

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Community, Family, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Locavore, Volunteering | Posted on 24-11-2008

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by Chelsey Simpson

With Thanksgiving this week and the Oklahoma Food Cooperative’s delivery day last Thursday, I’ve found myself contemplating a very simple question: Why food? Of all the things in the world to care about, when and why did food become so interesting to me?

I asked myself this question on Thursday as I left the Food Co-op’s Edmond pick-up site after four hours of frenzied volunteering. Even though I completely understand when other volunteers burn out or have more pressing obligations, it would never occur to me to quit or leave early. Why is that?

Or consider the fact that I was really excited about my plans last weekend, which included learning to render lard with my friend and fellow Fresh Greens blogger, Tricia. I’m in my mid-twenties—why I am excited about lard on a Saturday night?

And while we’re at it, why is making a meal plan my favorite Sunday chore? Why am I considering learning to butcher and dress a chicken when I can’t bring myself to kill a spider without asking its forgiveness? Why do I get such giddy satisfaction when I realize that everything on my dinner plate is local?

I wasn’t always this way. I used to buy big bags of boneless, skinless chicken breasts at the big box store just like everyone else. But at the same time, my current obsessions didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. I’m still doing some self-analyzing and trying to get to the bottom of the issue, but these are my best guesses at “why”:

1. I don’t care about food; I care about people.

I have that “Longhouse Gene,” remember? I really like the community aspect of food. I enjoy speaking to people about the Oklahoma Food Co-op through my job as outreach manager, and I love the chaos and camaraderie of delivery day. People are the reason I volunteer time and again. Besides the people I see, there are the people I don’t see, the ones who are able to make more money off their family farm because I am their occasional advocate and food distributor.

On a larger scale, I like food because it’s a universal connector. People come together for food; the kitchen is the hub of every happy household. Even when I am alone, I can conjure comfort with my mother’s corn bread recipe. And because I buy locally, my cupboards are filled, not with eggs and flour, but with the names and faces of people I know, people I think of when I use their products. My husband even asked if we could send a Christmas card to the makers of his favorite product, peanut butter, because he loves it so much, and he wants them to know. That never happened when I still bought Jif.

2. Food is impossible to ignore.

You can blow off the rainforest, the dolphins and even starving children in Africa. You can ignore calls to recycle, use public transportation or spay and neuter your pets. But you have to put at least a little bit of thought into food every day, or else you will die. Not only does the elemental nature of food attract me, it forms the basis for a very accessible obsession. Anyone with a mouth can form valid opinions about food, and if one meal isn’t so great, another opportunity will come along in four or five hours.

3. I have a history with food.

I might have started my adult life buying from a big box store, but there are plenty of things in my childhood that pointed towards conversion. First of all, I grew up on a farm. We didn’t grow anything organic or sell at any farmer’s markets, but I knew where my food came from and fiercely believed in preserving the small-farm way of life. I also had a mother who cooked from scratch and occasionally had a garden. Sometimes we canned things. I’m afraid that if I don’t learn these skills, they will be lost to future generations.

4. Food is fun.

I think my generation of sustainable foodies is sometimes faced with the fun but daunting task of reinventing the wheel. We don’t have to create the process of pasta-making for example, but because most of us didn’t grow up watching our grandmothers roll out sheets of dough by hand, we have to teach ourselves. Discoveries like that can lead to very satisfying moments of “look what I made!” Three-generations ago, making butter was a chore, but for me it is a novelty, a fun craft I really want to try. A day might come when we need to know these things, but for now we can just play.

5. “Food, well … yum!”

Enough said.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The United States of Effective Air Conditioning

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Current Affairs, Energy | Posted on 10-10-2008

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by Chelsey Simpson

During the second presidential debate on Tuesday, a woman who grew up during the Great Depression11199
asked the candidates, “What sacrifices will you ask every American to make to help restore the American Dream and to get out of the economic morass that we are now in?”

Excellent question. 

In his answer, Senator John McCain mentioned eliminating vague government “projects.” Then he pointed out that as Americans we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to.

Senator Barack Obama’s answer was slightly more specific. He criticized President George W. Bush for telling people to “shop” after 9-11. He then mentioned energy conservation and admitted that we need real leadership in this area.

I think that Obama is on the right track, but I was still disappointed in the candidates’ answers because, in classic political style, they took the path of least resistance and gave an answer that would pacify the masses. But if we are tired of pandering, (and actually I don’t think most Americans are) we have no one to blame but ourselves. Anything less than blatant optimism and full-throated encouragement of the myth of American entitlement is met with accusations of unpatriotic behavior.

When I graduated from Cameron University in 2004, I was thrilled and honored that National Public Radio’s Linda Wertheimer would be delivering the commencement address. She said many things of value, but the one that stayed with me was her suggestion that we make the best of every situation. “You are entering the world at a difficult time, and you might not be able to go out into the workforce and make a lot of money, and that’s okay,” she said (I’m paraphrasing here). “So go out into the world and do what you can do: serve your country, start a family, follow your passions. There will be time for other things later.”

The crowd booed her. Members of my own family deemed her a “downer.” Apparently it is anti-American to suggest that things in general—and money in particular—are not instantaneously available to us at all times. But can you blame us? All the evidence supports this view of the world. Infertility is now a treatment, and “On Demand” is the name of our television service. There are entire stores devoted to cabinet hardware. We buy our meats de-boned, de-skinned and often pre-cooked. Today buying a yoga mat for my mother-in-law, I lamented the fact that there were only five to choose from, and the one I wanted was in color I didn’t like.

I haven’t been around long enough to say this from personal experience, but I suspect we haven’t always been this way. I love to hear people tell stories about the days when things like bananas and oranges were special treats. It might seem strange to be nostalgic for an absence and a craving I never knew, but longing and anticipation are sweet fruits in themselves, and they are in very short supply.
To be more direct, I think that the presidential candidates should have looked into the camera and told all of us that what we want and what we need are very different creatures. In a world where 2.6 billion people do not have access to a toilet of any kind, we should be prepared to put on a sweater if we are cold, carpool even if it is not as convenient, and stop eating foods grown half a world away.

Avocado
I can hear the chorus now: Yes, we could do those things, but the fact that we don’t have to is what makes America great. Really? Is that how we have decided to define ourselves? Should we be known as The People of the Perpetually Ripe Avocado?
The United States of Effective Air Conditioning?

I hope not.

The Longhouse Gene

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Community, Family, Home and Garden | Posted on 25-08-2008

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by Chelsey Simpson

When I was about seven, my mother read a book to me about Native Americans, and I fell in love with the idea of living in a longhouse. The book said that several generations of the same family would live together in one home, where they worked as a unit for the common good.

At the time I lived about half a mile from my grandparent’s farm, where my father, my uncle and my grandfather maintained a herd of Holsteins and harvested wheat and cotton. Most evenings I was allowed to help my father feed the calves their bottles. I still remember the smell of every corner of the barn–the earthy manure of the milking stalls, the chemical musk of the medicine cabinet, and the damp, sweetness where the milk was stored.

GetAttachment-1
The land that the farm sits on has been in my family since Oklahoma’s land run days; I am generation number five. Even when my mother and father moved further south to establish a dairy of their own, the land they bought was still family land, and the house we lived in was built by my great-grandparents. The school I went to was tiny (I was one of only 10 children in my grade.), but when my grandmother grew up on the same farm she attended a one-room schoolhouse that also served as a community gathering place for social events of all kinds.

Essentially, I was already living in an extended longhouse.

Nearly twenty years have passed, however, and I still feel the same pull towards community that I did then. I lust for situations that force people to band together, even if chaos is part of the result. If this trait I have can be inherited, I’m sure I got it from my father. Our family life was always peppered with situations that others might have found strange.

A few years ago, for example, my dad became friends with a man who worked at a paint store he frequented. Before long, he was part of the store’s bowling team, and later that year he let the man and his family move into our house while they did some remodeling on their own home. It was only supposed to be temporary, but when the holidays came they were still there, so we put up two Christmas trees and carried on. It was a confusing situation to explain to outsiders, so I came to refer to them as “the other small family who lives in my house.”
GetAttachment

For people like my dad and I who have the Longhouse Gene, postmodern society can seem like a sterile place at times. One of my favorite NPR stories is about a seltzer deliveryman in New York City who knows he represents the end of an era. Referring to the beauty of his archaic profession, one of his oldest clients says: “[In the 1940s] everybody had different men in their lives. You had the seltzer man, you had the milk man … these were the people in your life. It’s a different world today.”

In modern America it is usually totally unnecessary and sometimes impossible to know the people who produce the products we buy. I’m not going to make any arguments about carbon footprints or local economies because I’m not an expert in those areas. All I can tell you is that I like the way it feels to live my life on a more local, personal scale. I like unraveling 100 years of American ingenuity that has brought us the one-stop wonder that is Wal-mart and the homogenization of Tide detergent.

Volunteering with the Oklahoma Food Co-op isn’t the easy way to get my daily bread, but it is the fun way. Every month I see 70-80 members of my own community at the co-op’s Edmond site. We share recipes and gardening tips. I see their children grow. This evening about 20 of us are meeting at Kam’s Kookery for a class about canning and food preservation

My Longhouse Gene can hardly wait.

Do you have a “Longhouse Gene”? What’s your favorite way to satisfy it?