Transition sweeps down the Oklahoma plains

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Change, Christine Patton, Community, Education, Energy, Environment, Locavore, Oklahoma City, Shauna Lawyer Struby, Sustainability, Transition Movement | Posted on 30-07-2010

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logo with spaceTransition OKC, a project of Sustainable OKC, became the nation’s 27th official Transition initiative in May of 2009. The TOKC coordinating team took several months to lay the foundations of this project by discussing the “Transition Handbook,” hosting a Training for Transition, and setting principles, guidelines and a constitution in place (neatly stored in PVC-free binders, thanks to Shauna Struby). Once the team worked the consensus process and crafted a mission, vision, and goals, a tornado of creativity and energy was unleashed here on the Great Plains. Here’s the scoop! 

Going Locavore
Local food champions are very active here in Oklahoma City, but we don’t often have a chance to get together to discuss strategies, share updates and success stories, and plot ways to expand the local food market. Enter Transition OKC, which is now sponsoring Going Locavore happy hour potlucks so all these fabulous people can get together in the same room and share ideas. After one meeting and some intense brainstorming, the next meeting is slated to focus in on the most promising of the hundreds of ideas and start serving up some local food projects. Several members of the coordinating group are working on this project, but Christine Patton of the TOKC coordinating team has taken on the responsibility of pulling the meetings together for now. photo8

Sustainability Center
The indomitable Susie Shields, another TOKC coordinating team member, was so inspired by the "Hands" portion of Rob Hopkins’ “Transition Handbook,” she vowed to create a Sustainability Demonstration Community Center. She put together a diverse team of architects, sustainability pros, nonprofit, business and government folks to forge a way forward with this dream. Education and programming and site selection subcommittees are already hard at work brainstorming and researching.

Reskilling Videos
TOKC’s coordination team believes reskilling workshops (learning how to do things for ourselves again) are a fantastic way to help people transition. It’s learning valuable skills, education, sharing information on the challenges we face, networking, food and/or beer and wine – all rolled into one. Put all that learning on video and wow – that’s one way to spread reskilling beyond the 10 or 20 people that can make it to a workshop. Luckily Trey Parsons of Enersolve and Christine Patton, TOKC coordinating team members, are ready to take on the challenge of creating a set of short reskilling videos to share information about how to cook with local food, install a rainwater catchment system, weatherize a house, use a sun oven, grow a garden, make pesto and peach jam and sun-dried tomatoes, and more. Lots of excitement about this as it will give these two the chance to run around all over the metro area asking questions of interesting people and maybe learning a few things too.

Movie Night
Several TOKC team members – Vicki Rose, Marcy Roberts, and Susie Shields – are planning quarterly movies night at Oklahoma City University. Since movies raise awareness about environmental problems, economic crisis, our precarious energy situation, and climate change, they’re a great way to start a conversation and brainstorm on how to address the issues.

Permaculture Design Course
Randy Marks of Land+Form and Shauna Struby are in the early stages of working with Permaculture teachers to design a course for Oklahoma. Short courses on Permaculture design (Permaculture is a design system for creating sustainable human settlements) have photo1been held here in Oklahoma, but if people want the full course, they have to go out of state which makes the cost prohibitive for so many. By bringing a full-scale design course here, Randy and Shauna anticipate greater participation and lots more Transitioning. Interestingly enough, Oklahoma’s 45th Infantry just had a team train in Permaculture design before they headed to Afghanistan, and this helps folks here in Oklahoma make a connection to the potential of Permaculture design for our communities.

Wired and Connected
TOKC’s Going Local OKC website has been enhanced with new navigation, a new look and a lot of new content. Shauna, Trey and Christine redesigned it to be more user-friendly, timely and flexible. Plus, it needed to expand to be able to contain all the new info TOKC will be posting on various projects (see above), as well as the handy OKC Resource pages (six at last count). TOKC also ties continuously updated media, such as this collaborative Fresh Greens blog, Sustainable OKC Twitter feed, and the TOKC Facebook page, into the website. A big thank you to Transition OKC and Sustainable OKC volunteers for keeping the content fresh and updated.

Teaching and Listening 
One of the things TOKC often hears when out and about in Oklahoma City is there is a great need for more education and awareness about the challenges we face and possible solutions within the general population. TOKC has given many presentations and conducted workshops over the last few months and plans to not only continue with this work,but the project has made it a goal to increase the number of presentations as they go forward. Shauna, Marcy, Vicki, Adam and Christine are working together to make this happen. If you’d like to have TOKC make a presentation to your neighborhood, civic, church group or school, please email them at info@goinglocalokc.com.

But Wait, There’s More
Susie just created a Buy Fresh Buy Local Farmer’s Market guide and she and Marcy are working on a comprehensive eight-page "Big Book" guide to local food. Plus Transition OKC is planning to redesign printed materials such as brochures and offer a fall and winter gardening workshop.  photo2

So there you go. The whole TOKC coordinating team – Randy, Shauna, Christine, Vicki, Marcy, Susie, Trey, Adam, Jim, Chase and Joseph – have all been working hard. Whether you’re in Oklahoma City or elsewhere, you’re invited to join in the workshops, presentations, friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter! They’ll be sharing what they’re doing here, reading all about what everyone else is up to, and sharing that too as they keep on sweeping down the plains.

– Inspired by a post written by Christine Patton, TOKC team member, on her blog at Peak Oil Hausfrau; tweaked and reposted with Christine’s permission on “Fresh Greens” by Shauna Lawyer Struby, TOKC team member

Sun Oven saves the day!

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Christine Patton, Food and Drink, Home and Garden | Posted on 14-08-2009

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By Christine Patton
 
The Sun Oven is a versatile tool. It can bake banana bread, roast a butternut squash, cook a lasagna or quiche, and turn brown rice into moist perfection. Normally, I appreciate itGarden trellis 019 for the way it keeps my house cool in the summer and for its zero carbon emissions.

But lately, it's been doing more than that. It's been saving my bacon.

I currently have no functioning kitchen sink, dishwasher, cooktop, or oven. Because my family is doing half the work of our kitchen remodel (general contracting, prepping cabinets for paint, painting, and tiling), it's proceeding slowly. Despite the remodel that has turned our house into a disaster area for the last three weeks, we are still living and cooking at home. But how do we make a variety of healthy meals without a cooktop or oven, how can we avoid unhealthy and pricey take-out meals when our kitchen has been destroyed? The answer is: the Global Sun Oven.

I've been able to use the Sun Oven to cook dinner on almost every sunny day that we plan to eat at home, and what a blessing that is! About two-thirds of the days have been sunny since our remodel began, and I've re-discovered the variety of things that the Sun Oven can cook:

- Rice for rice and bean salads, burritos, or as a good side for anything
- Chili, stews, soups
- Quiche and cheese (and other egg dishes)
- Beans
- Potatoes (baked or cut up for potato salad)
- Roasted vegetables / ratatouille

Of course, it's cloudy today. Looks like we may have hummus sandwiches for dinner tonight! 

No-cost energy efficiency assistance program

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Christine Patton, Community, Energy, Local News | Posted on 07-07-2009

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by Christine Patton

Free energy efficiency upgrades for lower-income families and individuals are now available through a Weatherization Assessment Program sponsored by the Community Action Agency of Oklahoma City (CAA). This program is designed to lower your energy bills and improve your home’s energy efficiency and comfort. This is a time limited offer, so apply today!

How it Works: Call 232-0199 to apply for a free energy audit of your home. CAA will help you identify and install the most important energy efficient improvements (up to $7,000). For example, CAA will install extra insulation, new windows, new exterior doors, caulk, weather stripping, etc. They might even help you with a new refrigerator. You do not have to pay for these improvements – they are a free program sponsored by the United States stimulus package!

Who is Eligible:
1. You must reside in Oklahoma or Canadian County.
2. Your income must be less than 200% of the federal poverty level (Family of one cannot make over $21,660, Family of 2 cannot make over $29,140 and a family of four cannot make over $44,100: other income qualifiers available by calling CAA)
3. You do not have to own the home that is having the energy audit, as long as you fit the income qualifications and have the permission of your landlord.
4. Priority assistance is available for persons over 60, persons with disabilities, or households with children under 12.

This is a free program. Take advantage of this grant to help you live more economically and comfortably in your home! Call today and take advantage of this program (232-0199), or for more information about CAA check out www.caaofokc.org.

The myth of efficiency

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Christine Patton, Energy, Farming, Peak Oil, Peak Oil Hausfrau | Posted on 26-05-2009

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by Christine Patton

Along with freedom and progress, efficiency rounds out the triad of the most treasured ideals of our country. We like things to be “efficient,” without really knowing what it means. Americans tend to use the term efficiency as a code word for getting things done cheaply and conveniently. Take agriculture, for example. It certainly is an achievement to churn out food at prices that are far less than historical averages (by percentage of family budget spent on food). That frees up a lot of money for people to spend on other things – clothes, travel, books, furniture, whatever your desire might be.

But what makes efficiency? Is it clever management? The productivity of human resources? Economies of scale? Centralization? Better information and computer systems? The competition of markets?

Business people give credit to these innovations, and all of these attributes may contribute incrementally to the cheapness of our food, but these are just icing on the cake. The real underpinning of what we think of as efficiency is cheap energy – especially cheap oil.

Farms here in America have been consolidating for more than 50 years. The average size of a “farm” is now 459 acres. They are managed with the aid of GPS systems, barns of tractors, and miles of irrigation systems. The farms of today have replaced people, armed with knowledge of local conditions and crop varieties and supported by rainfall and rich topsoil, with machines fueled by gasoline and regular applications of chemicals created from fossil fuels.

Efficiency, in other words, means replacing energy from humans and animals and plants with the incredibly cheap, concentrated energy found in oil. It does not mean less waste (at least when measured in BTUs). Americans pride ourselves on our innovations, but we did not in fact create better, less wasteful farming systems – we just found ways to pour as much of this cheap energy into our farms as possible, without considering how long the resource would remain cheap.

Small farms are actually more productive and efficient than large farms. They produce more per acre.  However, while fuel is inexpensive, small farms cannot achieve the massive economies of scale enabled by the replacement of people with gigantic tractors and chemicals. Since a gallon of oil can replace the energy of hundreds of hours of human labor, at a fraction of the cost, it makes a whole lot of economic sense to use it in place of people.

Replacing man (and horse) with machines may seem efficient, but it is not the efficiency of nature, which uses every particle of matter and energy, including any waste produced. It is the economic efficiency of man, which inevitably generates pollution and destruction because the costs are not borne by the user, but by nature and by the community at large. What we call efficiency is simply the conversion of a fossil fuel inheritance millions of years in the making into cheap fuel and food for a few generations.

What we call efficiency is actually the height of inefficiency. The foundation of modern agriculture is mostly just the addition of more energy to the system, and any fool can do that. Our current food systems are only made possible by incredible wastefulness, ruination of natural systems, and unbridled use of our inheritance of fossil fuels. These are the costs that our economic accounting does not take into account.

How efficient will it be to manage a 1,000 acre farm when production of oil begins to decline? How efficient will it be to ship lettuce 1,500 miles when gas costs $6 a gallon? How efficient will it be to use 20 calories of fossil fuels to create one calorie of food? What will we be left with when the Age of Oil begins to wane? Eroded topsoil, depleted aquifers, and the loss of the valuable farming knowledge of entire generations of Americans.

Here in Oklahoma, we are lucky to have small farmers still holding on to their farms and activists dedicated to reviving our local, sustainable and organic foodsheds. We have the Oklahoma Food Co-operative, an Extension Service supportive of sustainable agriculture, Community Supported Agriculture shares, and several local farmer’s markets. Many of the people living here have memories of farms, of growing gardens and raising animals, and many continue to grow fruits and vegetables regardless of whether they live in the country or city. Here we are not far away from our food.  

As the price of fuel rises, the myth of efficiency will be exposed. We can choose to recognize that our ideal was an illusion, and rebuild our local food systems and economies now, or we can choose to be a deer in the headlights as the price of food rockets along with the price of fuel. We can use real design innovations, like permaculture and integrated pest management, which rely on careful observation and knowledge of the ecology, instead of the application of chemicals.  We don’t know when high gas prices will return, but oil has already demonstrated an ample capacity for volatility. Let’s prepare now, so that we won’t have to pay later.

A Quick Guide to Solar Cooking

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Christine Patton, Energy, Food and Drink, Home and Garden | Posted on 30-03-2009

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by Christine Patton

What is solar cooking?

You can use the free energy of the sun to bake and cook meals in a sun oven. The sun oven uses mirrored reflectors to concentrate heat in an insulated box. Temperatures in a sun oven can easily reach 350 degrees. On a sunny summer day in Oklahoma, you can cook your lunch, a loaf of bread, and dinner in your solar cooker! Best cooking times are between 9 am and 6 pm (summer) and 10 am to 2 pm (winter).

Garden trellis 019

What can I cook in a sun oven?

You can roast vegetables and cook fish, chicken, banana bread, muffins, cookies, manicotti, lasagna, quiche, casserole, rice, beans, eggs, potatoes, soups, chili, hot water for tea, etc. Some things cook faster than others, but many dishes can be cooked in 1-2 hours in the summer. You can also pasteurize water by boiling it in a sun oven.

What types of solar cookers are availale?

You can buy or make a solar cooker or sun oven. Different designs are available.

    * Global Sun Oven (Retail $225-$250)  **The GSO is my personal favorite.
    * Tulsi Hybrid Sun Oven (Retail $220-$250)
    * Others ($100+)
    * Handmade Cookers (Plans available in Cooking with Sunshine & other books)

What do I need to cook with the sun?

   1. A purchased or handmade solar cooker/sun oven
   2. A spot receiving several continuous hours of sun between 9 am and 5 pm (summer)         or 10 am to 2 pm (winter)
   3. Oven gloves and sunglasses
   4. Dark colored pots or pans with dark-colored lids

What are the advantages of solar cooking?

   1. Solar cooking uses no fossil fuels or wood fuel. So it doesn’t pollute the air or                 contribute to global warming.
   2. Solar cooking doesn’t heat up your house in the summer.
   3. Solar cookers can be used during power outages.
   4. Solar cookers can be used at “off-grid” locations like campsites or homesteads.
   5. It cuts down on energy bills–from using less of the cooktop, oven, and A/C.